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America's Most Womanizing President
If asked to conjure the image of a lustful U.S. president, most of us would probably picture one William Jefferson Clinton. But soon-to-be-released letters remind us that Slick Willie is practically a monk compared to our 29th president, Warren G. Harding. He died in office in 1923, after serving just over two years in the office. But Harding seems to have made the most of his short time—at least in terms of presidential hanky panky.
A Sordid Presidency
Harding was no stranger to scandal. Having won the 1920 presidential race with the largest popular vote margin in presidential history—based on a Republican platform of moderation and independence from European affairs (which didn’t pan out for too long)—Harding wasted no time getting embroiled in controversy. His repertoire includes a number of high-profile cases of corruption and bribery.
When not involved in sketchy political scenarios, Harding was apparently busy accruing a long list of mistresses. About a thousand pages of love letters from Harding to one of his lovers will be released next month by the Library of Congress (got to give it to him, that’s some serious extra-marital dedication). The library received the letters from the president’s nephew, who insisted on a 50-year period of secrecy that has finally expired.
A String of Women
Harding’s affair with the letter’s recipient (and friend of Harding’s wife), Claire Phillips, began in 1905 and endured through the next 15 years of his time in politics. Though the relationship reportedly ended just before Harding’s ascension to the presidency, he was back to his old tricks once in the Oval Office. A former campaign director for Harding alleged they got it on in a variety of patriotic places, including a White House coat closet. And Harding is thought to have had at least two other long-term mistresses, as well as “assorted other flings” including a newspaper employee, chorus girls, and “a string of ‘New York Women.’” How did he find enough hours in the day?
As for the object of those (hopefully) juicy letters? Phillips made out alright in the aftermath of the affair, successfully blackmailing the Republican Party and winning a monthly stipend and jobs for relatives. Which makes her decidedly savvier—if also more depraved—than poor Monica Lewinsky.
***This piece first appeared in Ravishly and was republished here with permission. ***
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