DNA Proves President Warren G. Harding Had an Illegitimate Daughter

In Depth

Decades later, it seems genetic testing has finally settled a very old presidential sex scandal: DNA suggests that Warren G. Harding did, in fact, father Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, an unrecognized illegitimate daughter.

That’s according to the New York Times. The story has been knocking around for years, and it wasn’t exactly hush-hush. That’s because in 1927, Nan Britton went public, publishing The President’s Daughter, alleging she’d been Harding’s thirty-years-younger mistress and he’d gotten her pregnant. It was some pretty juicy stuff:

For six and a half years they maintained their affair, meeting wherever possible, including in Harding’s Senate office, where Ms. Britton wrote that they conceived Elizabeth Ann, born in October 1919. Harding never met his daughter but provided financial support. He and Ms. Britton continued their relationship after he became president, repairing to “a small closet in the anteroom” in the West Wing where, she wrote, they “made love.”

But then Harding died unexpectedly in 1923, leaving Britton in the lurch, without any financial provisions made in his will for the child. She wrote the book, but she’d destroyed her correspondence with him, and Harding’s family insisted he couldn’t have kids because of the measles. Without much in the way of proof, she faced harsh blowback.

The back-and-forth went on for years. Somebody responded with The Answer to the President’s Daughter; Britton countered with a libel suit and won. The papers followed every step of the process, of course.

The scandal stayed with Britton and Blaesing through the years:

Mr. Blaesing [Britton’s grandson] said the family lived with scorn for decades. They were followed, their house was broken into and items were stolen to try to prove the relationship was a lie. “I went through this growing up in school,” said Mr. Blaesing, 65, now a construction contractor in Portland, Ore. “They belittled him and her.”
The tests, he said, finally vindicate his grandmother. “I wanted to prove who she was and prove everyone wrong,” he said.

Finally, though, a pair of Hardings reached out to Blaesing and decided to try genetic testing. According to the results, “Mr. Blaesing was a second cousin to Peter and Abigail Harding, meaning that Elizabeth Ann Blaesing had to be President Harding’s daughter.” An Ancestry exec told the Times they’re very confident in the results: “The technology that we’re using is at a level of specificity that there’s no need to do more DNA testing. This is the definitive answer.” There you have it.

And here I always confused Harding with Harrison and thought he was the one killed by a cold.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Images via AP; newspapers via Google News, Newspapers.com.

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