Florence Harding loved politics – and she was a very savvy woman.
The Harding: Introduction to Politics
Florence Harding was thirty when she married Warren Gamaliel Harding. He was five years younger, the publisher of a weekly newspaper and the handsomest and most affable man in Marion, OH.
One time when Harding was recovering from a bad cold, he asked his wife, who he nicknamed “Duchess” to go to the newspaper office and bring back a particular folder. She found the office a shambles, with overflowing wastebaskets and ashtrays and a floor that hadn’t been swept for months. She began setting it to rights – and stayed for fourteen years, carving a niche for herself as circulation manager.
A local newspaper publisher is always a welcome guest speaker at civic organizations, and Harding was regularly invited. With the Duchess capably minding the store, he found plenty of time to boost mom, apple pie and the American way at the Lions and Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.
Of course some of the local politicians discovered the handsome and genial publisher and encouraged him to participate in Republican politics, declaring him to be a man who looked like a President.
Harding was amenable; the Duchess was thrilled. It opened a new “career” for her – boosting her husband. Their political circles expanded, and a solid cadre of lower level politicians gravitated around them.
The Harding house was opened regularly for politics, poker, cigars and whiskey. The Duchess was in her glory, mixing drinks and engaging in the banter. The politicians learned quickly that she was politically astute, and exerted considerable influence on her husband. She was the one with ambitions; he was happy to go with the flow.
Warren Harding: The Senate Years
In 1913 a Constitutional amendment was passed to elect US Senators by popular vote. (Previously they were elected by their state legislators.) In 1914, WGH became Ohio’s first Senator elected by statewide ballot.
They moved to Washington, where Harding slipped effortlessly into the old boy’s club of the Senate. He mixed easily in the fast lane of like-minded men who enjoyed poker, whiskey, cigars – and women. He could also “bloviate”, as he called it, on behalf of Republicans across the country, which he did, leading to a national reputation, at least among senior politicians.
All this played very well with his old Ohio pals who were convinced that Warren Harding was their ticket to high level politics. They started making plans for him.
Harding however, was very happy as a Senator. He was basically a lazy man, and as a Senator, he did not need to work hard. His ambition was satisfied. But it was not enough for MRS. Harding – and Harry Daugherty.
Harry Daugherty: Kingmaker
Perhaps more than anyone, Harry Daugherty (1860-1941) was responsible for Warren Harding’s presidency. He had been promoting Harding-the-publisher for years.
Daugherty was an Ohio lawyer of dubious distinction and morality, perceived by most as a man who gravitated to the shady side of the street. He was indicted more than once, but never convicted of anything.
By the end of the 19-teens, he was convinced that WGH could go all the way, and spent his time and energy to that end. He had also come to know and respect the Duchess for nearly twenty years, and realized that it was she who batted cleanup in the political lineup. Where Harding wavered, Florence stood firm. They would make a president; Daugherty famously predicted a deadlocked convention that would turn to Harding at 2 a.m. in a smoke-filled room.
The Hat Pin Story
The Republican Convention of 1920 was held in June at the Coliseum in Chicago, during a blistering heat wave. There was no air conditioning. There was also no front runner. Harding was considered by many as the best of the second-raters. And, as Daugherty predicted, the key politicians who controlled such things finally determined Harding to be their candidate in a smoke-filled room. He would be nominated the next day.
Daugherty was well aware that Florence Harding was a very sick woman, with a serious, and life-threatening chronic kidney ailment. The politician wanted to alert her to the news in advance and avoid any shock to her system.
This is now HIS story…told in the memoirs he wrote after both Hardings had died.
He found Mrs. Harding in the balcony of the sweltering auditorium. She had removed her big hat, and was anxiously leaning forward against the rail – holding two enormous hat pins, an essential accessory to the hat fashions of 1920.
Daugherty told her that WGH would be nominated on the next ballot. In her excitement and animation, the Duchess leaped up and accidentally jammed the two hat pins into Daugherty’s thigh. She was completely unaware that poor Harry had been stabbed, and he was too polite to tell her. After a few minutes of conversation, he excused himself to rejoin the politicians on the convention floor.
But he was in great pain and was limping. He could feel wetness around his thigh and realized that he was bleeding. He became lightheaded, and leaned against a pillar to compose himself. He still had work to do. There was no time to inspect the damages, despite the squish when he walked. Blood was seeping into his shoe.
But once Harding was nominated, and the crowd was cheering in excitement, a pained and fearful Harry Daugherty managed to limp back to his hotel room to inspect the dreaded wound. When he took his shoe off, there was no blood; it was only sweat that had been running down his leg.
His imagination had exacerbated what was merely a minor pinprick. No harm done. And the Duchess never knew a thing about it.
Boller, Paul F., Jr. – Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1988
Daugherty, Harry M., and Dixon, Thomas – The Inside story of the Harding Tragedy – The Churchill Company, 1932