Florence Mabel Kling DeWolfe Harding, First Lady during the Warren G. Harding administration (1921-23), was born on August 15, 1860. An outspoken supporter of woman suffrage, Mrs. Harding cast her ballot in the presidential campaign of 1920 for her husband. She was the first American First Lady afforded that right, as the Nineteenth Amendment had been ratified the previous summer.
I owe allegiance to only one boss—and she sits right over there in that box. She’s a mighty good one too.
Warren G. Harding, campaign speech, 1910; quoted in Lewis L. Gould, ed., American First Ladies. (New York: Garland, 1996), 373.
The eldest child of a prosperous Marion, Ohio, capitalist, Florence Kling learned about business from her father. When Warren Harding suffered a lengthy illness a year after their 1891 marriage, she put these skills to work by taking over his duties as owner/operator of the Marion Daily Star. When he recovered, she remained as business and circulation manager. “I went down there intending to help out for a few days,” she later recalled, “and stayed fourteen years.” Under Mrs. Harding’s skillful administration, the newspaper prospered.
A mother (divorced, with a young son from a first marriage), wife, and business manager, Florence Harding was one of the first women to bring a professional identity to the role of First Lady. In 1914, Warren Harding entered the U.S. Senate race at her urging. When Harding was nominated as the Republican candidate for president in 1920, “The Duchess,” as he referred to his wife, campaigned enthusiastically for his election. “I have only one real hobby—my husband,” said Mrs. Harding. President Harding openly acknowledged the importance of his wife to his political success.
During President Woodrow Wilson’s illness the White House had been closed to the public. Mrs. Harding reopened the house and gardens and presided over a crowded social calendar, graciously performing her ceremonial duties as First Lady. She talked freely, though not for quotation, with reporters and initiated the practice of providing “photo opportunities” to the White House press corps. The Hardings gave lavish garden parties to aid World War I veterans and were the first presidential couple to regularly show films after dinner to their White House guests. In her personal style and enthusiasm for automobiles and airplane adventures, Florence Kling Harding embodied the exuberant spirit of the 1920s. She also made the welfare of wounded and hospitalized veterans her personal cause, getting to know many of the patients at Walter Reed Army Hospital by name, encouraging individual veterans to contact her about problems with their care, and becoming directly involved in the affairs of the Veterans Bureau.
Florence Harding continued to exercise powerful political influence over her husband during his presidency. “He does well when he listens to me and poorly when he does not,” she once confided to a White House staffer. When President Harding died suddenly in San Francisco on August 2, 1923, the scandals that ruined his administration were beginning to break; the discovery of corruption in the Veterans Bureau was particularly upsetting to the First Lady. Mrs. Harding accompanied her husband’s body back across country by train while Vice President Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency. Long plagued by repeated bouts of kidney disease, Florence Kling Harding passed away on November 21, 1924.
- Search the collection Chronological List of Presidents, Vice Presidents, and First Ladies: Selected Images From the Collections of the Library of Congress on Harding and the names of other presidents to find more images of the first couple.
- Search the Photos, Prints, and Drawings Collections on Harding to view more images of First Lady Florence Harding and President Warren Harding.
- Learn more about the woman President Harding called “The Duchess.” Visit the White House presentation on Florence Kling Harding.
- Search the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection on Warren Harding to find photographs of the Harding residence in Marion, Ohio.
- Search on the phrase Florence Kling Harding or Mrs. Warren G. Harding in the historic American newspapers collection, Chronicling America to find newspaper articles from across the country.
- Explore the era of Harding’s vice president and successor, Calvin Coolidge, in the collection Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929. Search on Harding to find materials related to Florence Harding and her husband.
- Learn more about the campaign for women’s suffrage in the United States. Explore the collections for women’s history or search on suffrage across Today in History.