Florence Mabel Harding (Kling), First Lady of the United States (c.1860 - 1924) MP

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Nicknames: "Flossie Harding"
Birthplace: Marion, Marion County, Ohio, United States
Death: Died in Marion, Marion County, Ohio, United States
Occupation: First Lady of the USA (1921-1923), First Lady of the United States 1921-1923
Managed by: Sherry Kennedy
Last Updated:

About Florence Mabel Harding (Kling), First Lady of the United States

Florence Kling Harding

1860-1924

Born: Marion, OH

Married: Henry de Wolfe, 1860, divorced 1886;

Warren Harding, 1891

Children: None

First Lady: 1915-1921

Warren Harding was elected by a landslide in 1920. It seemed that the public was pleased to again have a vigorous President with an eminently sociable First Lady. The Hardings described themselves as "just plain folks" and it was reported that the First Lady would often greet tourists at the White House. She was known as a successful hostess at huge receptions and garden parties. Unbeknownst to most of the public, however, the Hardings defied Prohibition and regularly served liquor for the President and his close friends. Florence Harding enjoyed playing bartender and the President's cronies enjoyed having her around. They called her "Duchess" and even the President referred to her as such.

Florence was devoted to the achievement of high political office for Warren. At the time of their marriage, she was a divorce with a young son. Her father, an extremely wealthy banker in Marion, Ohio, strongly opposed her relationship with Harding (who was five years Florence's junior.) After the marriage, Florence's father did not speak to her for some seven years.

She once said, "I have only one-real hobby-- it's my husband." Without his strong willed wife, poker-playing Warren probably would not have become President. It is said that Florence insisted that he run for the nation's highest office. Although he didn't want to be President, She certainly wanted to be First Lady!

The Harding administration was known for being scandal-ridden and corrupt. President Harding once said that, "In this job I am not worried about my enemies. It is my friends who are keeping me awake." This bitter remark referred to the members of Harding's so-called "Ohio Gang," the cronies who turned out to have been poor friends indeed. In an effort to shore up his declining public image, the President and First Lady embarked on a cross-country "Voyage of Understanding" in June 1923. On August 2, the President died in San Francisco, probably of a cerebral blood clot. Florence eventually burned almost all the presidential papers, an act which has certainly served to cloud the truth regarding the Hardings' knowledge of the corruption around them. Florence Harding survived her husband by only little more than one year, dying in 1924 of complications relating to chronic kidney disease.

-------------------- Daughter of the richest man in a small town--Amos Kling, a successful businessman--Florence Mabel Kling was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1860, to grow up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege. Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, she developed a self-reliance rare in girls of that era.

A music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory completed her education. When only 19, she eloped with Henry De Wolfe, a neighbor two years her senior. He proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker who soon deserted her, so she returned to Marion with her baby son. Refusing to live at home, she rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name; he died at age 35.

Warren G. Harding had come to Marion when only 16 and, showing a flair for newspaper work, had managed to buy the little Daily Star. When he met Florence a courtship quickly developed. Over Amos Kling's angry opposition they were married in 1891, in a house that Harding had planned, and this remained their home for the rest of their lives. (They had no children.)

Mrs. Harding soon took over the Star's circulation department, spanking newsboys when necessary. "No pennies escaped her," a friend recalled, and the paper prospered while its owner's political success increased. As he rose through Ohio politics and became a United States Senator, his wife directed all her acumen to his career. He became Republican 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 Nellie, he concluded that the new First Lady was "a nice woman" and would "readily adapt herself."

When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened mansion and grounds to the public again--both had been closed through President Wilson's illness. She herself suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, but she threw herself into the job of First Lady with energy and willpower. Garden parties for veterans were regular events on a crowded social calendar. The President and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.

Mrs. Harding always liked to travel with her husband. She was with him in the summer of 1923 when he died unexpectedly in California, shortly before the public learned of the major scandals facing his administration.

With astonishing fortitude she endured the long train ride to Washington with the President's body, the state funeral at the Capitol, the last service and burial at Marion. She died in Marion on November 21, 1924, surviving Warren Harding by little more than a year of illness and sorrow. http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/first_ladies/florenceharding/

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Florence Kling, First Lady's Timeline

1860
August 15, 1860
Marion, Marion County, Ohio, United States
1880
September 22, 1880
Age 20
Galion, Crawford, Ohio, United States
1880
Age 19
1882
1882
Age 21
1891
July 8, 1891
Age 30
1924
November 21, 1924
Age 64
Marion, Marion County, Ohio, United States