Florence Kling Harding
[Warren G. Harding]
Biography: 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.