Warren G. Harding

On July 29, 2014, more than 1,000 pages of passionate love letters written by Warren G. Harding, the nation’s 29th President, to his mistress of 15 years, Carrie Phillips, will be unsealed from a vault in the Library of Congress where they have been under lock and key for the last half century.

“I love you more than all the world, and have no hope of reward on Earth or hereafter, so precious as that in your dear arms, in your thrilling lips, in your matchless breasts, in your incomparable embrace.” Warren Harding 1910 letter to Carrie Phillips

Discussion of letters on July 22:  The release of the letters will be preceded by a July 22, 2014 discussion at the Library of Congress on the letters and their significance that will include descendants of Harding, Library of Congress officials, and author James David Robenalt.  A statement from the descendants of Carrie Phillips will be read.

Carrie Phillips

10 years of love letters:  Harding’s affair with Carrie Phillips, the wife of a good friend and Marion, Ohio neighbor of the Harding’s began in 1905 when Harding was the 40 year old Lieutenant Governor of Ohio.  It continued throughout his term as a U.S. Senator, and ended in 1921, just before Harding was inaugurated as President.  The letters cover the period 1910 to 1920 and are Harding’s letters to Carrie.  Presumably, Carrie’s letters to Harding were among the records of Harding that were burned by Harding’s stern and formidable wife, Florence, known as the “Duchess,” after Harding’s 1923 death while he was President.  

Lawsuits and locking up the letters:  The history of the letters has been punctuated by lawsuits and the Harding family seeking to block them from seeing the light of day.  The Library of Congress has reconstructed a brief summary of the history of the letters:

Although the affair ended prior to Harding’s presidential inauguration in 1921, Harding and Phillips remained on good terms.  In 1922, Phillips, accompanied by her husband and mother, visited President Harding at the White House.  When her health failed in 1956, Phillips was admitted to a nursing home in Marion and died in 1960.  Her lawyer and guardian found and retained the letters, which were hidden in a box in Phillips’ home in Marion, Ohio. The lawyer made the collection available to a potential Harding biographer [Francis Russell] in 1963, although the use of quotes from the letters in this biography [The Shadow of Blooming Grove] was thwarted by a lawsuit brought by the president’s nephew, Dr George Harding.  An Ohio probate judge closed the papers on July 29, 1964, and after extended litigation, the Harding-Phillips letters were purchased by Dr. Harding from Phillips’ daughter, Isabelle Phillips Mathee.  In 1972, Dr. Harding donated the letters to the Library of Congress for safekeeping, with the stipulation that the Library keep the papers closed until July 29, 2014, which would be 50 years from the day the probate judge first closed them.

Dashes only in 1968 Harding biography:  Because of the court order against author Francis Russell publishing quotes from the letters, The Shadow of Blooming Grove has dashes where quotes were intended to have appeared in the text.

Only 2 authors have seen letters in 50 years:  In the last 50 years, in addition to author Francis Russell (who only had access to 105 of the letters), only one other author, James David Robenalt, has has access to some of the letters.  Robenalt found a microfilm of the letters in the papers of former Ohio archivist Kenneth Duckett at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Ohio.  Duckett, while the state’s archivist, had microfilmed the letters in 1963 when the letters were in temporary storage at the Ohio Historical Society.  In 2009, Robenalt published a book, “The President’s Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War,” in which some of the letters were quoted.  Like Russell, Robenalt did not have access to all of the letters.

Was Carrie Phillips a German spy?  In the steamy letters, as quoted by Robenalt, Harding and Phillips also discussed World War I and Germany.  Robenalt has raised the question in his book, based on circumstantial evidence, that Phillips may have been a German spy. Phillips’ descendants vigorously deny such a charge, and the family has provided other materials to the Library of Congress in order to present a balanced picture of Carrie Phillips.   It is clear that Carrie Phillips sympathized with Germany and that caused some disagreement between her and Harding.  

News articles about the letters:

Mike Purdy’s Presidential History Blog
© 2014 by Michael E. Purdy