Florence Harding’s Relationship with Other First Ladies

Florence Harding and Lou Hoover in Portland, Oregon, July 1923.

Florence Harding and Lou Hoover in Portland, Oregon, July 1923.

by Carl Sferrazza Anthony, Historian of the National First Ladies Library

Florence Harding’s relationship with other First Ladies was not significant. During her tenure as First Lady, however, she was on very friendly terms with Nellie Taft in her capacity as the Supreme Court Chief Justice’s spouse and with Lou Hoover as the Commerce Secretary’s spouse. Her interactions with them were circumstantial and social in nature, rather than personal.

Florence Harding and Grace Coolidge meet in Marion, Ohio, after the 1920 election.

Florence Harding and Grace Coolidge meet in Marion, Ohio, after the 1920 election.

Despite the story of her reacting negatively to the government providing an official vice presidential residence for Calvin and Grace Coolidge, her correspondence shows she also had a friendly relationship with Grace Coolidge.

The story is not likely false, given the source of it was Columbia University president Nicholas Butler Murray, who was not known for prevaricating. However, the exaggeration of it provides a misleading characterization of their relationship.

There is also at least one newspaper account suggesting Mrs. Harding’s impatient exasperation with Mrs. Coolidge feeling she must strictly follow social etiquette. Unlike her, of course, Mrs. Harding had lived in Washington as a U.S. Senate wife and knew its customs. In addition this, she was a friendly and informal person by nature rather than a stickler for protocol.

Florence Harding expressed disdain for Edith Roosevelt’s submissive interactions with the general public and turning over requests for photographs of her to the President. Mrs. Harding believed a First Lady was a public figure and that the citizenry was her constituency.

Florence Harding and Edith Wilson riding together on Inauguration Day, 1921.

Florence Harding and Edith Wilson riding together on Inauguration Day, 1921.

Although Edith Wilson left a caustic account of her meeting with Florence Harding during the transition from the Wilson Administration to the Harding Administration, the latter did invite the former to return as a guest to the White House to share a tea with her.

Also, as a former First Lady Florence Harding accepted the invitation to attend the February 1924 funeral of former President Wilson, extended by Edith Wilson. That event, held in the National Cathedral of Washington, was marked by the largest gathering of First Ladies to that time: Nellie Taft, Edith Wilson, Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge and the future First Lady Lou Hoover.

In those of her papers which have been preserved as part of the Warren G. Harding Papers held at the Ohio Historical Society, there is no evidence of Florence Harding having had contact with the other two former First Ladies alive at the time of the Harding Administration: Frances Cleveland (Preston) or Mary Dimmock Harrison.

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  • Katie November 11, 2013, 4:59 pm

    your website is bias towards some first ladies like Abigail Adams. She was involved in the revolutionary war and women’s rights and managed a household, children , a farm and all the while wrote letters to her husband who was working. She gave advice and support and was not afraid to speak her mind. She was intelligent hardworking and did not just care about the privileged she cared about others to unlike what you say. Adams was amazing and far better than some of the first ladies you have photoed at the top of the page. Abigail should be up there she deserved. She did everything while being ill too. The revolutionary war also, made everything that much harder in her too. That is what I think of Abigail Adams.

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