FLORENCE HARDING by Carl Sferrazza Anthony


The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President
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A revealing biography with unmistakably powerful contemporary parallels to recent presidential spouses, from Anthony (First Ladies, 2 vols., 1990, 1991). Plain and five years older than Warren, Florence was more indispensable helpmate than lover to her randy spouse. Anthony discloses what she assiduously sought to conceal, depicting a woman whose air of command (her husband nicknamed her —Duchess—) was a necessity for someone badly served by those closest to her. Escaping from a tyrannical father in small-town Ohio, she bore an illegitimate baby by a ne—er-do-well neighbor at age 19, only to have the father abandon her and their baby. Having obtained a common-law divorce, she later won the handsome Warren, supplying the drive and business acumen that propelled him from newspaper editor to president. Halfway through her marriage, she discovered Warren’s affair with her friend Carrie Phillips. Friends such as Harry Daugherty, Jess Smith, Charlie Forbes, and Albert Fall helped destroy her husband’s reputation through scandals such as Teapot Dome. A trusted family doctor, Anthony concludes, caused Warren to die by misdiagnosing heart trouble as food poisoning (and led Florence to cover up the mistake). Even boon companion Evalyn McLean, the morphine- and alcohol-abusing owner of the Washington Post, allowed Warren to use her mansion for trysts. In many ways, Florence deserved better. She relentlessly pushed causes (aid for veterans, animal rights, Zion National Park, women’s suffrage) and, even before Eleanor Roosevelt, made the First Lady a figure of visibility, influence, and popularity. Inevitably, a public gripped by gossip in recent years about popular presidents and their assertive wives will find echoes in this chronicle, such as affairs, a friend’s suicide, and a First Lady who consulted an astrologer. While sometimes overly reflective of Anthony’s painstaking research, this biography is a fascinating account of one of the most complex of all the political wives of this century. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-07794-3
Page count: 623pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998


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