Sherry Hall never tires of showing visitors the paintings of Warren and Florence Harding that hang side by side near the entrance of the Warren G. Harding Presidential Library and Museum in Marion. “Every element of the paintings has a story to tell,” says Hall, the site manager, “because it reflects something that was meaningful to them.”
The paintings, by nationally known artist — and Marion native — Danny Day, are so lifelike that you can see the veins in the Hardings’ hands and wrinkles in their clothes.
The president has a genial twinkle in his eye and holds a straw hat straight out of the Jazz Age. Laddie Boy, the beloved Airedale who attended cabinet meetings and retrieved the president’s errant golf balls, sits at Harding’s feet, and resting on a table behind them is a copy of The Marion Daily Star, the failing newspaper Harding purchased at age 19. He managed to make it profitable and still owned the Star when elected president in 1920.
Mrs. Harding’s painting depicts her wearing a choker, a favorite fashion accessory that launched the 1920s “flossie cling” fad. Because she was an accomplished pianist, the painting includes a piano, and on top of it are flowers and a tin box made for her by a disabled World War I veteran, signifying the time she spent helping servicemen at Walter Reed hospital.
The thoughtful attention to detail so evident in the paintings characterizes the entire library and museum. Opened in 2021, the nation’s newest presidential archive salutes the last of eight presidents to have hailed from Ohio, with features such as columns that echo both the White House and the front porch of the Hardings’ home. It also accomplishes something Hall thinks is long overdue: relating Harding’s “full story” by providing accurate, unbiased information.
“We want people to meet Harding as a human being with all of his strong points and all of his foibles and failings,” Hall says.
Harding won the 1920 election in a landslide, garnering a record-setting 60.3% of the popular vote in the first U.S. election in which women cast ballots. For Americans, Harding’s outgoing nature was a refreshing change from his aloof predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, and his policies — tax cuts, protective agricultural tariffs, support for highways and commercial aviation — boosted the economy and helped modernize the nation. He was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
After his death from heart failure in 1923, however, political scandals — especially Teapot Dome — and accounts of extramarital affairs tainted Harding and his administration. “Harding died a much beloved president and then his legacy just plummeted,” says Hall. “But now, historians are rediscovering him and rethinking his presidency.”
The library also examines the Hardings’ life together; though they may not have had a fairy-tale romance, their union lasted 32 years and brought them success in publishing and politics. A modern woman in her own right, Florence managed the Star’s circulation department, and after her husband accepted the Republican presidential nomination, she turned their home into a hub for his supporters. Harding campaigned from their front porch, drawing 600,000 people to Marion in what Florence later called “the greatest epoch of my life.”
You can stand on that front porch today simply by crossing the lawn between the Harding Library and recently restored Harding Home. From the staircase where they were married and marble statues they bought while touring Italy to the waffle iron Florence used to make Warren’s favorite food, it provides an intimate and authentic perspective on two small-town Ohioans who considered themselves “just folks” but together reached the White House.
The Harding Home and Warren G. Harding Presidential Library and Museum, 380 Mt. Vernon Ave., Marion, OH 43302. The sites are open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and noon–5 p.m. Sunday, with guided tours offered on the hour. (The sites are also open on Wednesdays, March through November.) All tickets must be purchased in advance. For more information, visit www.hardingpresidentialsites.org.
Ohio is known as the “Mother of Presidents,” as seven chief executives were born in the Buckeye State and an eighth settled here before his election to office. They are Ulysses S. Grant (Point Pleasant), Rutherford B. Hayes (Delaware), James Garfield (Orange Township — now Moreland Hills), Benjamin Harrison (North Bend), William McKinley (Niles), William Howard Taft (Cincinnati), and Warren Harding (Corsica, now Blooming Grove). William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia but settled in Ohio.
Ohio residents will once again play an important role in determining the leadership of the nation at the polls this November.