Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, Author William Morrow & Company $30 (645p) ISBN 978-0-688-07794-5
On inauguration day in March 1921 the new First Lady reputedly turned to her husband and remarked, ""Well, Warren Harding, I have got you the Presidency. What are you going to do with it?"" He answered, ""May God help me, for I need it."" Enlarging, with recently emerged documentation, on his First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents' Wives and Their Power (1991), Anthony has produced an engrossing, full-breadth biography of the spouse of possibly the most incompetent American president, which establishes ""the Duchess"" as one of the most remarkable of First Ladies. (""Jazz Age"" is only a title embellishment.) Mother of an illegitimate child before her marriage to the proprietor of a small-town weekly, she became a straight-laced, activist helpmate who pushed and prodded her mediocre husband into a political career in which he was increasingly unqualified. Despite a proclivity toward adultery, poker, drink and crooked cronies, Harding still managed to conduct some creditable public business before dying of an apparent heart attack after only two and a half years in office--long enough, however, for scandals among his associates to brew. Protecting his fragile reputation while building her own, his wife promoted women's rights, veterans' welfare, racial equality and national parks. But her dependence on the White House physician (her incompetent home-town homeopath) would accelerate Harding's decline while, paradoxically, keeping the ailing Florence, five years her husband's senior, active. She died a year after Harding and was quickly forgotten. Anthony's melodramatic life strenuously rehabilitates her. Illustrations not seen by PW. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
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