Warren G. Harding was a bad President and worse person. For example: Harding carried on a fifteen year love affair, with his friend’s wife, who was palling around with enemy spies…and that is not the most famous Warren G. Harding affair.
I’m here to talk about that lesser-known affair. But first, here’s the gist of the bigger affair. Married man Warren Gamaliel Harding gets elected President in 1920. Around the year 1915, married U.S. Senator Harding (age 50) starts shtupping Nan Britton (age 19). That continues in the White House – and I mean IN THE WHITE HOUSE – until Harding’s death from a heart attack in 1923. A few years later, Britton tells the public about her daughter, born 1919, fathered by Harding. Wow: history! That is some relevant, Clintonian, Trumpian history! You would think more history classes would teach that story. It’s a much more exciting story than “Teapot Dome”.
“Teapot Dome” is the main Warren G. Harding test question answer. Why? Because it was a huge scandal…but also because your middle school history teacher couldn’t bring up Nan Britton without recapping sex ed and getting signed permission slips. So if you know anything about President Harding, it’s probably “Teapot Dome”. Or as I call it, “The Most Family-Friendly Story About Warren G. Harding Getting Dome.”
On to the lesser-known affair. I’ve explored a unique Library Of Congress archive transcribed by the New York Times Magazine regarding President Harding. Because before (and during!) his Britton affair, married guy Warren G. Harding romanced Carrie Fulton Phillips. They hooked up from 1905 to 1920, plus Warren’s sweaty attempt at a follow-up in 1922. As I’m sure you’re aware, those years fall within the era historians call “Old-Timey Times.” Because they romanced in Old-Timey Times, Harding and Phillips romanced each other through letters. Letters now preserved at the Library of Congress. Stored, catalogued, and treated like artifacts, even though you’d think the LOC would have better things to store than secret scribbles where Warren G. Harding nicknames his penis “Jerry”.
Surprise: Warren G. Harding nicknamed his penis “Jerry”. Occasionally, “Mount Jerry.” We know that, now, thanks to Harding’s embarrassing sex letters. Here are a few excerpts:
How did our history teachers AND geography teachers skip this li’l chestnut? Also, great news, the Warren G. Harding Sexy Geography doesn’t end there.
Congratulations to Lake Superior on becoming the heart of a Warren G. Harding code-phrase about…genitals? I think? And this leads us to a big disagreement between me and the historical establishment. Surprise: I am here to fight with history experts! Again! Because the historical consensus here has a crucial flaw. This is the New York Times Magazine’s take on Harding’s nickname maneuvers:
Interesting! Also, wrong. I contend we do Warren G. Harding a huge favor if we act like he’s doing secretive code. Read the letters. There’s no secret. Every passage about “Jerry” is openly about Harding’s penis, and every letter is highly sexual. It’s obvious on the page. For example, here’s something Harding writes in the same letter as the Lake Superior bit:
He also writes:
If you spot any “secrets” in there, you’re a secrets wizard. You have a third eye for clever hidden sex verbiage and I’m astounded by you. All I perceive is a guy straight-up confessing how bad he wants this letter’s recipient to do wet, loud Goblin Mode stuff to his gamaliel. And yet, this letter is a supposed prime example of Jerry Code! Because way down that same letter, Warren says this:
Folks: “Jerry” is not code. What “Jerry” is, is some kind of nickname-play. Harding is hiding nothing. He’s simply *into this*. He does not care if you catch him. He…wants you to catch him? Unclear. Either way, there’s no chaste explanation for any of the Harding letters I’ve read. Lemme give you one more example. Here’s a fuller version of one I quoted early on:
That is Warren G. Harding remembering a sexual encounter from last year, and masturbating to the memory, and then writing that down in a letter. There are no other ways to read this letter! None! If you do try to generate a PG reading, you end up with the following story: Warren G. Harding thought about sex, went home, laid down, thought about sex some more, achieved a clear mental fantasy of his former lover’s perfect body…and then a second guy named Jerry entered the room to discuss that. In detail. With enthusiasm. That’s the *most plausible* chaste reading of this story. To make this story (a little) less gross you have to claim “Jerry” is a real-life Mister Poopy Butthole who’s on round-the-clock retainer to whoosh into any room and chat sex memories with (as of 1913) an obscure former Lieutenant Governor of Ohio. That’s what you’d read, there, if Warren G. Harding is some kind of cryptography genius. But you do not read that. The undecipherable Enigma Machine he ain’t.
Why are modern experts dressing up Harding’s letters as clever subterfuge? Is it because we hold a general respect for U.S. Presidents? Is it because professional historians are dorky prudes? I don’t know for sure. All I can do is show you these letters. Letters that are useless as code, and useful as indicators that Warren G. Harding liked to name and personify his penis. He really, really, liked to do that. Which means romance with Warren G. Harding was more awful than we ever could’ve guessed. It must’ve been an endless blather of eager narration, featuring penis personification and weiner world-building, unspooled mid-act by Warren “Giggles” Harding. A barrage of sex talk from a guy who followed up his letter’s Mount Jerry passage with an unironic use of the exclamation “Gee!”. For real! That’s the next word he wrote, after almost calling his penis “Mister Everest”. And I’m medium-confident Warren’s imagination went beyond his own hog. Because the New York Times Magazine claims Harding’s “code” included nicknames for Carrie Fulton Phillips. Once again, here’s their claim:
To my surprise, the Library of Congress has a whole ‘nother take on “Pouterson”:
Super different! Yet similar. Because both institutions frame “Pouterson” like it’s another deft code word, fueling a private love affair. But I call hooey on that. That’s bullshit. Because here is that nickname in action:
Folks: you see what’s happening here. Right? Do you detect a pattern? Do you remember all those times Warren G. Harding called his penis “Jerry” for his own gratification? I feel like you, Dear Reader, my Dear Grown Adult Reader, can make the same leap I did concerning “Mrs. Pouterson.” She sounds an awful lot like “she” is a “female body part.” Perhaps a part that can, oh I don’t know, lubricate independently of a person’s feelings. Also, consider the vibe of the word “pout”. You get it. I don’t need to go on here. Because I can control myself. Unlike the nickname-fueled coitus-rememberer who was our 29th President.
Also…maybe never mind about all this? Maybe this is none of our business. These were two consenting adults. Maybe they’re allowed to figure out their (extramarital) sex lives however they saw fit. However: no! I take all of that back! Because on top of all the humongous embarrassments you’ve just read, Warren G. Harding’s sex letters prove his affair with Phillips was a U.S. national security crisis of World War One. Surprise: something besides sex enters the picture now. In March 1915, Warren “Gettin’ It In” Harding becomes a U.S. Senator. Harding continues to romance Carrie Fulton Phillips. I wonder what else the Library of Congress has to say about her…
Hey, New York Times Magazine, any related thoughts here?
They go on to say we’re pretty sure she was not personally a spy. But hey, wow! Warren G. Harding’s lover also loved the opposing side in World War One. And she was good friends with Kaiser Wilhelm’s spies. Also, wow, does that explain the “Jerry” thing? Did Warren use the name “Jerry” to subliminally increase the appeal of his penis? By giving it the main British nickname for German soldiers? And then if I use this insight to self-publish a crummy book of Warren G. Harding Subliminal Penis Appeal Tips/Tricks/Treats, could we turn that book into the topic of a 1-900-HOT-DOG column? Maybe! I’d love to dunk on myself in a Mr. Snrub mustache.
Anyway: Carrie Fulton Phillips supported the pre-Nazis. She probably didn’t pass secrets to the Kaiser’s agents. We’re mostly pretty sure she did not commit mid-war treason. And that’s all fine, I guess? She’s entitled to have opinions, and have friends. It’s not like she–
Well, okay, as long as it doesn’t impact Harding’s role as–
I mean as long as it’s private between–
Wow! Also we have a sense of how much leverage Phillips had here. Because technically, no, she did not get Senator Harding to vote against the U.S. resolution to fight Germany. However: Harding was just one Senator, and the Senate voted 82-6 in favor of war. A pouterson-whipped German asset would vote “yes” just to keep up their cover. And then when Harding ran for President in 1920, the Republican National Committee (great guys) gave Phillips significant money, plus a free tourist vacation to Japan, in exchange for staying quiet. So, yes, her blackmail position was strong. She had Jerry over a barrel. And that’s not the only letter these lovebirds exchanged about money:
If I’m reading that right, Carrie Fulton Phillips blackmailed Warren G. Harding. And then Harding tried to continue that affair, while starting another affair (Britton), and considering funneling cash to Phillips from the U.S. defense industry. Harding did that within two weeks of becoming a Senator. And he did that during the bloody middle of The War To End All Wars. It’s almost impossible to fathom. It’s like a sexy, unsexy, 1920s Iran-Contra. Harding is like a Voltron made of John Edwardses. And if there’s a hero in this story – which is a Mount Jerry-sized “if” – if there’s a hero in this story, I gotta say, it’s the written word. Let’s give it up for the written word. Because nothing else could provide such a powerful time capsule of seemingly boring history guy Warren G. Harding’s grossness.
Alex Schmidt makes Secretly Incredibly Fascinating, which is a good podcast. LISTEN TO IT IMMEDIATELY. Also he taped this episode about The Great Lakes before he discovered Warren G. Harding’s Lake Superior metaphor (thank god).