Thursday, August 2, 2012

First Lady Thursday: August 2, 2012

Sorry for the late post....Recently a friend of mine FINALLY moved to the same county as me.  She is usually my impetus to donate blood.  Now that we live so much closer to each other, I can get back on a regular donation schedule.  We set today up as our first day....and she was denied due to low iron count!  I still gave (Yeah me!) and then we went out to lunch....

So anyway....there have been nine occasions in United States history when our nation has had two different First Ladies on the same non-inauguration day!  Today is the 89th anniversary of one of those days...and the only First Lady who POSSIBLY murdered her way out of her title!

President Warren Harding, by most accounts, was one of our worst presidents ever.  His administration was unbelievably corrupt and scandal ridden.  When he died on August 2, 1923, numerous questions surrounded the cause of death.  There are many theories....natural causes, negligent doctors, even suicide.  However, there is one more theory which is my favorite.

Warren Gamaliel Harding
In 1930, a man named Gaston B. Means published a book entitled "The Strange Death of President Harding."  In the book, Means portrayed himself as the private investigator to end all private investigator.  He maintained that one of his last assignments came at the behest of First Lady Florence Harding.  Mrs. Harding, according to the book, directed Means to obtain evidence of the President's affair with Nan Britton. (I can't even BEGIN to do justice as to who Britton THIS if you want more details!)

Nan Britton
Means eventually was able to obtain letters and other mementos from Britton and presented them to the First Lady.  Means famously recounted the sheer fury the First Lady exhibited when confronted with the President's unfaithfulness.

There are two motives put forth by Means to explain why the First Lady MIGHT have murdered the President.  The most important one was attempt to protect his reputation before the truth of the corruption around him and his administration came to light.

The more tawdry, second motive was revenge.  The rumor of the day, maintained by Britton until her death, was that President Harding was the father of Britton's daughter.  This was the final straw for the First Lady.  In the book, Mrs. Harding all but admits, according to Means, that she "poisoned her husband as an act of charity".

While there were rumors that Harding had been murdered almost immediately upon his death, this was different.  Mrs. Harding had been dead more than half a decade by the time Means' book was released and was unable to defend herself against the claim.

While Means gets credit for getting some things right in his book, he published it upon his release from prison after serving a two year sentence for graft.

Furthermore,  Mrs. Harding had put up with far more than Nan Britton and her daughter during her marriage to the President.  By most estimates, Harding maintained five mistresses and had a "formidable" number of brief liaisons.  As one historian notes:

"It is difficult to imagine that Nan Britton finally enraged her to the point where she murdered her husband. It could not have been the existence of a child, since Harding had already fathered an illegitimate child early in their marriage with another of Florences best friends."
It would seem that while the specter of other women might not have been a motive, protecting her husband's legacy might be more likely.  It is reported that Mrs. Harding burned many of her husband's papers immediately after his death and refused the call for an autopsy.  Within an hour of his death, Mrs. Harding had the President embalmed, dressed and in his casket.
All of this is a long way of saying, that on August 2, 1923, the nation awoke with Florence Harding as the First Lady and ended the day with Vermont's Grace Coolidge in the role.
Florence Harding
Grace Coolidge

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about you, but Ms. Harding appears to have that 1000 yard stare. Too, with that hairdo, her brain must have been under a lot of pressure. lol

    It would be interesting to be 100% sure of the Presidents who did NOT have an affair. I imagine with all that power the list would be short.


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