Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

Before there was Slick Willie, there was Warren Harding

I've heard it said that Warren Harding once lost a set of White House china in a poker game. I looked high and low for a source for this rumour, but was unable to find anything authoritative on this. I did happen across an article that Carl Sferrazza Anthony wrote for the Washington Post about the 1920s bad boy President. According to Anthony, Harding had so many sexual liaisons while at the White House that he makes Bill Clinton look like am amateur. Anthony writes:

Fearing revelations about his illicit affair with a young campaign volunteer – which included sex in an Oval Office hideaway while under the guard of Secret Service agents – the president realized that stonewalling was ultimately futile. He stunned a private party of reporters at the National Press Club by confessing his carnal desires. "It's a good thing I am not a woman," the president said. "I would always be pregnant. I can't say no."

Anthony continues with this unflattering bio of Harding:

Harding, a small-town Ohio newspaper publisher, was uniquely unsuited for the job of president – and he knew it. "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here," he once said. But he "looked like a president," as one major backer put it, and his wife, Florence, was instrumental in shepherding his political career. (The press considered Florence, known as the Duchess, to be the power behind the throne; one cartoon depicted the couple as "The Chief Executive and Mr. Harding.") Harding, a one-term Republican senator, won the job by promising Americans a "return to normalcy" after World War I.

Though his legacy was soiled, his domestic achievements were substantial: the 40-hour work week, improved health care for new mothers, the first balanced-budget bureau, a focus on technology. And we have to give Harding credit for establishing a venerable institution: the Washington gossip mill. Based on new documentation, here's a reprise of the Harding era.

I love your back, I love your breasts
Darling to feel, where my face rests,
I love your skin, so soft and white,
So dear to feel and sweet to bite. . . .
I love your poise of perfect thighs,
When they hold me in paradise. . . .
— A Harding poem to one of his mistresses, Carrie Phillips

No president had more "women scrapes," as his attorney general put it, than Warren G. His first affair, three years into his marriage to Florence, was with Susie Hodder – his wife's best friend from childhood – resulting in the birth of a daughter. His second affair was with Florence's closest adult friend, Carrie Fulton Phillips. It lasted 15 years. His third enduring mistress was his Senate aide, Grace Cross. Number four was the most infamous and the first presidential mistress to write a memoir: In the large Oval Office closet, the president had at least one tryst with Nan Britton, a campaign volunteer who had started having sex with Harding when he was 51 and she was 22. Their assignations, facilitated by Secret Service agents James Sloan and Walter Ferguson ("Harding hated to have them around, for he despised being watched," reported the chief usher), came to an abrupt stop when another agent, Harry Barker, tipped Florence off, and she ran down for a confrontation...

He had assorted other flings, including one with Rosa Hoyle, said to have conceived his only illegitimate son, and one with Augusta Cole, whose pregnancy by Harding was terminated. He bedded a Washington Post employee known as Miss Allicott, and former chorus girls Maize Haywood and Blossom Jones – all procured by Harding's crony, Washington Post publisher and owner Ned McLean. And then there's the string of "New York women" – including one who committed suicide after Harding wouldn't marry her, and another who had a stash of incriminating love letters purchased by Harding loyalists. The president even publicly ogled Margaret Gorman, the first Miss America, in Atlantic City, days after her crowning.

According to Anthony, Harding's aide Jess Smith, through his Department of Justice connections was able to carry out a systematic intimidation of Harding mistresses who threatened to do as Carrie Phillips did and demand blackmail for their love letters.In April 1921, Harding crony Ned McLean officially became an agent of the FBI, and did whatever it took to protect his boss, including ripping the blouse of Nan Britton to try to snatch letters she claimed to be carrying.Even on the eve of his inauguration, Harding had arranged a late-night rendezvous with Grace Cross, his Senate aide, in a Willard Hotel room. Olive Clapper, a reporter's wife, is quoted as saying that Harding's friends "ordered her to pack and get out of town, threatening to put the FBI on her trail if she didn't go at once. She was so frightened she left immediately."

Anthony claims that Harding was "the only president successfully blackmailed by a mistress." He writes:

Once he was nominated as the Republican candidate, the national GOP committee paid off Carrie Phillips's lump-sum demand of $25,000 and monthly stipend of $2,000, funneled through a secret bank account kept, apparently, under Jess Smith's name (the records were burned by Attorney General Daugherty).Once Harding became president, Phillips returned from an all-expense-paid trip abroad and demanded that her brother and son-in-law be given federal posts. It was done. Harding even circulated the name of Phillips's husband to be ambassador to Japan – before word got out why he thought a dry-goods salesman from Marion, Ohio, deserved the post and the idea was quashed.

One night, when he was a senator, Harding had such a row with aide Grace Cross that she cut his back and the police were called. Thereafter, Cross went around town talking about a "birthmark" on the president's back that she could identify – undoubtedly the wound – which became part of her arsenal in unsuccessful attempts to get blackmail money. However, former Democratic attorney general Mitchell Palmer would later use his knowledge of the Cross affair to force Harding to drop a Justice Department prosecution against him.

Perhaps this is the most stunning allegation by Anthony:

During a party at Smith and Daugherty's "Love Nest," some New York chorus girls were brought down to entertain a stag party. In attendance was the president. When glasses and bottles were being flung off the table so the dancing girls could perform, one Washington prostitute, identified only as a Miss Walsh, was knocked unconscious. Harding was hustled out. The woman died and was buried in a potter's field. In recently discovered transcripts of her taped revelations, Evalyn McLean recalled that the FBI director "railroaded" the woman's brother into St. Elizabeths mental hospital when he suggested a blackmail payment.

I'll have to get back to you about the White House china.

Tags: presidential sex scandals, warren harding

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