That was one editor’s headline on one media outlet’s report on the Library of Congress’ publication of Harding’s private correspondence with Carrie Fulton Phillips, evidence of an oft-rumored extramarital affair. Political satirists including John Oliver have poked fun at Harding for his unrestrained prose, and the archival community is generally abuzz as these interesting materials resurface after a fifty-year embargo, coming into public view for the first time.
Warren G. Harding, half-length portrait, seated, facing left, at Elks’ National Home, Bedford, Va.
Copyright by F.H. Richardson (expired). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The letters, their survival until the present day, and the story of how they were sealed until July 29th, 2014, are all of interest to historians and curators of our cultural heritage. The New York Times has a good account of how the letters came to be in the public domain.
It is particularly interesting to read how Harding’s correspondence with Mrs. Phillips included major political topics of the day, such as U.S. entry in World War One (Harding was in the Senate in 1917, and voted in favor of declaring war.) Mrs. Phillips was pro-German, and Harding warned her to avoid public statements in favor of the German Empire, lest she attract the attention of federal investigators.
Harding’s presidency was, of course, cut short by his untimely death in 1923, and his reputation is largely colored by the scandals surrounding his time in the Oval Office. Collections such as these letters can help us understand Harding’s life and work, by adding perspective on, not to mention detail into, his thoughts and actions at a given time. Hopefully, the emphasis on the ‘steamy’ nature of the letters will pass, and students and researchers can use these materials to learn more about the milieu that directly proceeded Harding’s rise to the Presidency.
News of the impending release of the letters prompted us here at the Miller Center to turn to one of our on-line exhibits, made a few years ago. Thanks to some diligent research, and preservation work, from Harding’s nephew, Dr. George Harding, III, we have copies of President Harding’s recorded speeches, something of a rarity for the time period. A newspaper editor by trade, Warren G. Harding showed a keen interest in the then-new technology of analog recording, and he recorded excerpts of his popular speeches for pressing and distribution as phonographs.
In 1921, President Warren Harding spoke into a recording
apparatus to create a phonographic copy of one of his speeches.
The Harding family deserves praise for the efforts to preserve these recordings and make them of greater use today. Dr. Harding supervised, in the 1970s, the re-recording of the original discs as they were converted from their original 78-rpm format to the more common 33 & 1/3 rpm. Then, in 2004, Dr. Harding’s son, Warren G. Harding, III, saw that the recordings were digitized and issued on Compact Disc. Just as the letters made their way through various hands and venues to make it to 2014, so the recordings of Harding’s orations have had a circuitous journey to the Web.
Given what seems to be an unusually-high amount in interest in Harding, we took the opportunity to update our catalog records for these items, and have decided to add the collection to CPC. This marks the first batch of material pertaining to Harding, and adds one more presidency to our list (with more to come soon!)
Here’s a quick link to our site, presidentialcollections.org, with the Harding speeches highlighted.