The bad news was that President Warren Harding died in 1923. Without a will.
Nan Britton, Nymphette
Nanna Popham Britton (1896-1991) had been obsessed with Warren G. Harding since she was a child. She fixated on him like today’s teeny-boppers fixate on movie or rock stars. But in the early 1900s, it was considered a little peculiar, since he was a) thirty years her senior, and b) merely a local Marion, Ohio figure at the time.
When WGH began his political rise, pubescent Nan cut his photos out of the newspapers and pasted them on her walls. And walked past The Marion Star, the newspaper he owned. And walked past the Harding house in case he was reading the newspaper on the porch.
She contacted the Senator asking for help in finding a secretarial position, and he responded with a letter of reference. And an offer to buy the now-nineteen-year-old woman a cup of coffee the next time he was in NYC. The opportunity came soon enough, and the cup of coffee became a series of trysts, and some bona fide matinees. And Elizabeth Ann.
The President and The Mother
According to Nan, Senator Harding was always generous in providing for their new baby, and even gave her a little pocket money for herself. But he never saw their daughter, nor expressed any real interest in doing so. There were always excuses.
As Presidential candidate and later President, WGH believed (as did most of the country) that a man’s private business was nobody else’s business. But he also believed that IF the country became aware of some of that private business, it would be bad for all concerned. He kept the affair quiet and insisted that she destroy the many letters he had written her.
Despite the many claims on the President’s time and attention, Harding and Nan managed to find a few stolen minutes together, including a well-repeated tale of a “quickie” in a White House closet. Supposedly it was vacated only a few moments before the suspicious First Lady Florence Harding came sniffing about.
Then Harding died suddenly in August, 1923.
He had made no will.
Nan and her/their baby were unprovided for.
Nan Seeks Harding Help
It was perhaps natural enough for Nan Britton, unwed mother, to seek assistance from the Harding family/estate, so she could care for her/their child, now about four.
Within the private Harding circle, it was no secret that Warren Harding was a long-time and varied philanderer. Not too many people disbelieved the affair. But it was also believed (with some reason), that he was sterile and could not father a child. Florence Harding was livid, having known Nan as an adolescent floozie-in-situ. She categorically refused any financial support, insisting that the father of Nan’s child was some young fellow, and she only wanted Harding money. Like the rest of them.
WGH’s taste in women was always inclined toward the “floozie” type, and more than one had been privately paid off to retrieve his usually ardent letters and/or to remain silent about any association. Florence knew that. She also died a few months after Harding.
Also, shortly after Harding’s death, a flood of complicated and nasty scandals began to emerge, lumped together as “Teapot Dome.” While Harding himself was never accused of anything other than bad judgment in character assessment, several high level Presidential friends and associates were involved.
If Nan thought she would get any financial assistance from family, friends-of-Harding, Republicans or Congress itself, it was not going to happen. They had enough damage control problems of their own. She was shunted aside, and any accusations were immediately dismissed or vociferously denied.
The main problem was lack of proof. She had destroyed his letters, as he instructed.
So in 1927, desperate for money, she wrote a book. Titling it The President’s Daughter, she had it privately published, dedicating it to unwed mothers everywhere.
…was an immediate hit! It sold more than 90,000 copies in the first year. It is also believed to be the very first of the “tell-all” confessionals-for-profit.
It is not particularly well written, but it is eminently believable. Nan tells how she lost her virginity to Harding, a near-arrest by a suspicious hotel detective, a series of hotel trysts, her pregnancy not long afterwards, her lonely confinement, and assorted messengers who came bearing child-support envelopes. And her futile efforts to have Harding “see” their baby. And her futile efforts to claim any support for their child.
If the public went mad for the book, the politicians – and the collateral Harding family were hopping mad. No stone went unturned in trying to suppress The President’s Daughter, to buy up all existing copies, and otherwise sanitize the accusations by accusing the “victim.” For decades, the “rumors” of Harding’s affair-cum-child were hotly debated pro and con.
Nan herself remained steadfast and devoted to Harding’s memory. She moved far from Ohio, raised her daughter as quietly as possible, using an assumed name from time to time. It is said that his photograph was always placed prominently in her house, and that Elizabeth Ann (who used the name “Ann”) was taught always to be proud of her paternity.
Nan lived to be ninety-five years old, never veering from her assertions and her devotion. Elizabeth Ann also lived a long life, finally dying in 2005, leaving three grandchildren.
In 2015, one of her grandchildren (along with a great-grandnephew of Harding) finally consented to DNA testing, which proved conclusively that Nan Britton, obsessive nymphette, possessive mistress, and relentless defender all things Harding, was telling the truth.
She was the mother of The President’s Daughter.
Britton, Nan – The President’s Daughter, Elizabeth Ann Guild, 1927
Russell, Francis – The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times – McGraw Hill, 1968
Sinclair, Andrew – The Available Man: Warren Gamaliel Harding – The Macmillan Co., 1965