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Florence Mabel Kling (DeWolfe) Harding

(1860 - 1924)

First Lady from March 4, 1921 to August 3, 1923

Florence Harding

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 
Florence Harding

 

In office
March 4, 1921 – August 3, 1923
Preceded by Edith Bolling Wilson
Succeeded by Grace Coolidge

Born August 15, 1860
Marion, Ohio
Died November 21, 1924 (aged 64)
Marion, Ohio
Spouse(s) Warren G. Harding
Occupation First Lady of the United States
Signature

Florence "Flossie" Mabel Kling Harding (previously DeWolfe; August 15, 1860 – November 21, 1924), wife of Warren G. Harding, wasFirst Lady of the United States from 1921 to 1923.

Born in Marion, Ohio, the daughter of Amos Kling, a prominent Marion banker, and Louisa Bouton-Kling, "Flossie" was a headstrong, dowdy woman, somewhat masculine in manner, with a piercing voice and blue eyes.

Pregnant at age 19, Florence eloped with Henry "Pete" Athenton DeWolfe, her childhood friend and neighbor, in 1880. To date, scholastic researchers have been unable to locate official documentation or a legal marriage license for the couple, leading to the belief that Pete DeWolfe and Florence Kling were never civilly married, but instead declared common law marriage as allowed at the time in Ohio. DeWolfe proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker. Shortly after the birth of their son Marshall Eugene DeWolfe (also known as Marshall Eugene Kling) in 1880, Florence left her husband and returned to Marion. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name; he died at age 35.

She refused financial help from her wealthy father and supported herself, and for a time, her son by giving piano lessons; she had studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music before her marriage. Eventually, she let her parents raise the boy, who like his father, became a drifter and died young.

Warren and Florence Harding in their garden.

From the moment she met "Wurr'n", as she pronounced his first name, in 1890, Flossie chased after him. Harding, the young publisher of the town's only daily newspaper, Marion Daily Star (now the Marion Star), lazily ducked her advances at first, but his feeble defenses soon gave way, and he found himself engaged to be married. Her father, Amos Kling, was displeased with Flossie's choice. He even accosted his future son-in-law on the street, calling him names and threatening his life if he did not leave his daughter alone.

Warren Harding, aged 25, married Flossie Kling-DeWolfe, aged 30, at his home in Marion, Ohio, on July 8, 1891. The couple did not have children of their own; however, Flossie's son lived with them from time to time. The young man idolized his stepfather, and hoped to become a newspaperman himself one day.

Theirs was an unhappy marriage. Harding neglected her and sought refuge from her shrill demands in the camaraderie of his poker pals and the arms of other women. Still her martial demeanor and managerial skills helped him build his newspaper into a financial success.

As circulation manager of the Marion Star for 14 years, Mrs. Harding saw that the paper was distributed efficiently and subscriptions were paid up. "Mrs. Harding in those days ran the show," recalled one of her newsboys, Norman Thomas, later the Socialist presidential candidate. "Her husband was the front,...it was she who was the real driving power in the success that the Marion Star was unquestionably making its community."

He became United States Republican Party nominee for President in 1920 and "the Duchess", as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby—my husband."

She had never been a guest at the White House; and former President Taft, meeting the President-elect and Mrs. Harding, discussed its social customs with her and stressed the value of ceremony. Writing to his wife Helen Taft, he concluded that the new First Lady was "a nice woman" and would "readily adapt herself."

The Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio is considered by many historians to be the most beautiful of Presidential Tombs in the United States.

In Washington, Mrs. Harding became deeply interested in astrology. Early in 1920, when Harding was still a dark-horse contender for the Republican presidential nomination, she visited Madam Marcia, a noted clairvoyant in the capital, who predicted that her husband was a shoo-in, but added that he would die suddenly in office. As First Lady, Mrs. Harding hosted elegant garden parties and mixed readily with guests.

Mrs. Harding embarked with her husband on his nationwide "Voyage of Understanding" in the Summer of 1923. She was at his side when the President died in San Francisco, California in August 1923.

Following the death of President Harding, the former First Lady set about making a new life for herself. Her intention was to remain in Washington, temporarily staying at Friendship, the estate of her best friend Evalyn Walsh McLean, best known as the owner of the Hope Diamond. However, when she had a flare-up of a long-standing kidney ailment, her friend and the former Surgeon General, Dr. Charles E. Sawyer, insisted that Mrs. Harding return to Marion for treatment and recovery.

Mrs. Harding did come back to Marion, where she died of renal failure less than 16 months later, on November 21, 1924. She was buried next to her husband.


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