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Florence Harding

Florence HardingAKA Florence Mabel Kling

Born: 15-Aug-1860
Birthplace: Marion, OH
Died: 21-Nov-1924
Location of death: Marion, OH
Cause of death: Kidney failure
Remains: Buried, Harding Memorial, Marion, OH

Gender: Female
Religion: Methodist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: First Lady

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Wife of US President Warren G. Harding

Her mother was frequently depressed, and her father was, by most accounts, virtually tyrannical with his family. A hardware store owner she described as "the richest man in town", he had wanted a son, and ordered that Florence be raised as a boy, which she was until adolescence. This cruelty backfired, at least as far as her father was concerned, as it allowed Florence Kling -- she preferred to be called "Flossie" -- to grow up thinking of herself as the equal of any boy, or any man. "No man, father, brother, lover or husband can ruin my life", she once said. "I claim the right to live the life the good Lord gave me, myself."

After high school, she briefly attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, until her father punished her after an argument by withholding her tuition. At 19, she became pregnant by a local boy from a troubled family; Henry DeWolfe. They ran away together, may or may not have married, and six months later she had his son, but DeWolfe was a heavy drinker and an abusive man who soon left her. Her father refused to take her back, and for two years Florence DeWolfe supported herself and her son by, she said, teaching piano. Eventually her father took in and raised his grandson, while still shunning his daughter.

One of her piano students was the sister of a local newspaperman, Warren G. Harding, a ladies man five years younger than she, who had little interest in her. She pursued him rather audaciously, he grew fond of her, and they were married in 1891. Her father, believing rumors that Harding had a few drips of Negro blood in his ancestry, did not speak to either of them for the next eight years. Mrs Harding, meanwhile, worked in the circulation department of her husband's newspaper, the Marion Star. She was reportedly responsible for turning the shaky enterprise into a prosperous business, and for her iron fist at the office she became known as "The Duchess".

Their marriage was "unconventional" -- he had a series of dalliances with other women for the remainder of his life, so many that it seems unlikely his wife was unaware. They never attempted to win permanent custody of her son, Eugene Marshall DeWolfe, but in his teens he occasionally lived with the Hardings when he too was unable to get along with his grandfather. Mr and Mrs Harding never had any children of their own. He became a leading citizen of Marion, then the state's Lieutenant Governor, a U.S. Senator, and in 1920 he was elected President of the United States.

Florence Harding has been called the first "modern" First Lady, because she voiced her opinions, her husband was willing to listen, and they made no attempt to keep her intelligence a secret. She spoke out for the peace movement, veterans' welfare, and women's rights, and she was the first First Lady to entertain Hollywood types in the White House, including such frequent guests as Lillian Gish, D. W. Griffith, and Al Jolson. She became popular with the press for her habit of holding her own press conferences -- another first for a First Lady. She hired a fortune teller, who offered her glimpses of the alleged future and reportedly wielded great influence in the White House. Mrs Harding held numerous garden parties for war veterans, open to the public, and she played poker (and reportedly did quite well) with her husband and several cabinet members, in games held weekly in the White House library. Though prohibition was in effect, the Hardings served all manner of liquor libations at capitol events.

While visiting San Francisco in 1923, her husband died of a heart attack in bed. Mrs Harding refused to allow his body to be autopsied, and then spent weeks going through his personal papers, burning many or most of them. This has, of course, fueled decades of speculation about a cover-up, and suspicion that she poisoned him or he died in another woman's embrace.

Father: Amos Hall Kling (shop owner, b. 15-Jun-1833, d. 1913)
Mother: Louisa Bouton Kling (b. 1835, m. 4-Apr-1859, d. 1893)
Brother: Clifford B. Kling (hotelier)
Brother: Vetallis Kling ("Tal")
Husband: Henry Atherton DeWolfe (b. circa 1859, m. Mar-1880, sep. 1882, div. Jun-1886, d. 1894)
Son: Eugene Marshall DeWolfe (b. 22-Sep-1880, d. 1915 tuberculosis)
Husband: Warren G. Harding (b. 2-Nov-1865, m. 8-Jul-1891, d. 2-Aug-1923)

    High School: Marion High School, Marion, OH (1876)
    University: Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (dropped out)

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