Warren G Harding: Century-old sex scandal has 29th US president trending on Twitter

DNA tests have reportedly proved Harding fathered the child of his mistress Nan Britton

Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 13 August 2015 19:06
Nan Britton and Elizabeth Ann Blaesing
Nan Britton and Elizabeth Ann Blaesing

She was - in more ways than one - the Monica Lewinsky of her day.

Almost 100 years ago, Nan Britton scandalised Washington with her claim she was the mother of President Warren G Harding's “illegitimate child” and hot tales of romps in a White House closet. Many believed her; others did not.

But now the issue appear to have been settled. A report on Thursday said DNA testing had confirmed that Harding, the 29th US president, was indeed the father of Ms Britton’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing.

President Warren G Harding

“It’s sort of Shakespearean and operatic,” Peter Harding, a grandnephew of the president and one of those who instigated the DNA testing, told the New York Times.

“This story hangs over the whole presidential history because it was an unsolved mystery.”

Stephen Baloglu, an executive at Ancestry.Com, the company that confirmed the family link, said in a statement: "The results show 99.9 per cent certainty that James Blaesing is a second cousin with Peter Harding. After having tested multiple members of the Harding family, all having connections back to James, the family connection is definitive."

A chart showing the Harding connection

Harding was elected in 1920 and died just three years later. While he was a popular leader at the time of his death, his reputation quickly suffered as a series of scandals subsequently emerged.

Among these was the corruption scam related to the sale of naval petrol reserves at Teapot Dome in Wymong.

Washington was further set alight with claims, contained in Ms Britton’s 1928 memoir The President's Daughter, alleging she was the late president’s mistress for six years and that he had fathered her child in 1919, a year before he was elected. Ms Britton - considered to have written the first ever political kiss-and-tell - passed away in 1991 at the age of 94; her daughter died in Oregon on November 17, 2005.

Nan Britton wrote a memoir. 'The President's daughter'

The book contained no small amount of titillation and salaciousness, including tales of illicit sex in the White House as Secret Service agents stood watch.

“It was not the first time a president was accused of an extracurricular love life, but never before had a self-proclaimed presidential mistress gone public with a popular tell-all book,” the newspaper reported.

“The ensuing furore played out in newspapers, courtrooms and living rooms across the country.”

Some historians have said the focus on Harding's scandals and the issue of his mistresses, have clouded perceptions of a man who was an effective president.

Monica Lewinsky has been compared to Nan Britton

James Robenalt, a lawyer and author of The Harding Affair, Love and Espionage During the Great War told The Independent that Harding had come to office as the world faced crisis in the aftermath of World War One. "He held the world together," he said.

As to Ms Britton, he said there were several similarities between her and Monica Lewinsky, who scandalised Washington in the late 1990s with her affair with Bill Clinton, the 42nd president. Both women were much younger than the man with whom they consorted, both were infatuated with them and both of them suffered abuse and insults.

"It's always the women who bear the brunt of it - the shaming - much more so than the men," said Mr Robenalt.

Whatever else the scientific settling of the parenthood issue did, on Thursday, the 100-year-old sex scandal had the long-dead Warren G Harding trending on Twitter.

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