First Ladies: Florence Kling Harding

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Florence Mabel Harding was the wife of President Warren G. Harding. She destroyed many of their papers and letters before her death.

Florence Kling Harding

Florence Mabel King was born on August 15, 1860 in Marion, Ohio. She was the oldest of three children born to Amos and Louisa Bouton Kling King.

She studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and longed to be a concert pianist.

At the age of 19, she eloped with Henry Atherton (“Pete”) DeWolfe on January 22, 1880 in Columbus, Ohio. She gave birth to her only child, Marshall Eugene DeWolfe, on September 22, 1880. A short time later she separated from her husband and her father raised her son. The couple was not officially divorced until 1886.

After seperating, her son lived with her parents, but they refused to support her. She lived seperately and made a living as a piano teacher.

In 1890, she became engaged to Warren G. Harding, who was five years her junior. They had no children together. Florence’s son lived with at times, but mainly stayed at his grandfather’s.

It is said that Marshall DeWolfe was closer to Warren Harding than his mother. DeWolfe followed in his step-father’s steps to become a newspaperman.

While her husband was ill, Florence became business manager of their newspaper, the Mario Star.

Florence and Warren Harding

Florence Harding is said to push her husband and his political career. She managed his “finances, social life and public image.”

Marshall DeWolfe married and had two children, who would become the Harding heirs. DeWolfe died on January 1, 1915 at the age of 34 from alcoholism and tuberculosis. The news was not announced to the community and he was buried in an unmarked grave in the same plot as his father, who had already died.

When Florence Harding discovered her husband’s affair with her close friend, Carrie Phillips, she is said to be “hurt and angry” and even contemplate divorce. She also claimed this wasn’t the first time her husband had an affair with a close friend. In time the couple reconciled and did not divorce.

While running for president, one of Harding’s mistresses attempted blackmail, which Florence handled. She also whitewashed her first marriage and portrayed herself as a widow. She refused anyone to mention her son or first husband.

Florence became First Lady on March 4, 1921.
Florence took an active role in national politics and was said to “at times even appear to dominate the President”. Her husband often referred to her as “The Duchess”.

“She was the first First Lady to vote, operate a movie camera, own a radio or invite movie stars to the White House.”

Florence Kling Harding

By 1923, Florence was ill with a chronic kidney condition. Her husband also had heart issues.

On a coast to coast trip, President Harding died on August 2, 1923. Florence was with him when he died.

After the president’s death, she destroyed many of their papers and correspondence. This led to many conspiracy theories.

She hoped to make a new life in Washington and tour Europe, but her health did not allow this. She returned to Marion, Ohio to live.

” Her last public appearance was at the local Remembrance Day parade, where she stood to salute the veterans. A few days later, she died of renal failure.” She died on November 21, 1924.

Upon the completion of the Harding Tomb,she was laid to rest beside her husband.

Her two grandchildren became the principal heirs of her estate.