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Collection Warren G. Harding-Carrie Fulton Phillips Correspondence


In 1956, Carrie Fulton Phillips moved into a nursing home. It was left to her lawyer and guardian, Don Williamson, to sort Phillips's possessions in her Marion, Ohio, home. While clearing a closet, Williamson found a box full of letters dating from 1910 to about 1924. Not knowing what to do with the papers, he brought them home for safekeeping. This collection is comprised solely of the material that was in that box.

The box of letters found in Phillips's closet in 1956 remained in the home of her guardian until 1963, when they were first shown to historian Francis Russell and then brought to the Ohio Historical Society. Once there, archivist Kenneth W. Duckett feared the letters would be transferred to the Harding Memorial Association where they faced possible destruction. Believing that the papers deserved preservation, he secretly microfilmed them, producing five copies. Only a handful of items were omitted from the film.

Eventually, word of the letters leaked out. In the end, after various legal proceedings, the Harding family, who controlled copyright for most of the collection, purchased possessory rights from the family of Carrie Phillips with the understanding that the original letters would go to the Library of Congress, where they would remain sealed until July 29, 2014. One microfilm copy was retained by the Harding family, and three microfilm copies were sent to the Ohio Historical Society with the same restriction as that placed on the originals at the Library of Congress – closed until 2014. One microfilm copy, however, had escaped the notice of the families and the judge. Duckett had retained a copy, and when he donated his papers to the Western Reserve Historical Society, that fifth microfilm set, which was not part of the lawsuit, ended up at the historical society as part of Duckett’s collection of personal papers.

Additional documents related to Warren G. Harding, Carrie Phillips, and the legal proceedings involving their correspondence may be found in the related Phillips/Mathée Collection in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.