Daughter of the richest man in a small town, Florence Mabel Kling was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1860, and grew up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege. A music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory completed her education. Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, Florence developed a self-reliance rare in girls of that era.
When only 19, she eloped. Her husband soon deserted her, and she returned to Marion with her baby son. Refusing to live at home, she rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood. She attained a divorce in 1886 and resumed her maiden name.
Warren G. Harding ran the Marion newspaper, the Daily Star. When he met Florence, a courtship quickly developed. They married in 1891, in a house that Harding had planned, and this remained their home for the rest of their lives. They had no children.
Mrs. Harding took over the Star's circulation department, and the paper prospered as Harding's political success increased. She directed all her acumen to his career. "The Duchess," as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election when he was nominated for President in 1920. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby--my husband."
When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened mansion and grounds to the public again - both had been closed throughout President Wilson's illness. She herself suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, but she threw herself into the job of first lady with energy and willpower. Garden parties for veterans were regular events on a crowded social calendar. The president and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.
Florence Harding always liked to travel with her husband. She was with him in the summer of 1923 when he died unexpectedly in California, shortly before the public learned of the major scandals facing his administration.
With astonishing fortitude, she endured the long train ride to Washington with the president's body, the state funeral at the Capitol, the last service and burial at Marion. She died in Marion on November 21, 1924, surviving Warren Harding by little more than a year of illness and sorrow.
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