Carrie Fulton Phillips
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (May 2010)|
Carrie Phillips (b. Caroline Fulton on September 22, 1873, near Bucyrus, Ohio – d. February 3, 1960, Marion, Ohio) was the mistress of Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States. Young Carrie Fulton matured into a great beauty, one that epitomized the Gibson Girl beauty so popular at the time. Her relationship with then Senator Warren G. Harding was kept secret from the public during its time and for decades after. The affair ended when Phillips blackmailed Harding at the time he became President.
Carrie Fulton Phillips holds the infamous distinction of being the only woman in United States history known to have successfully blackmailed a major political party, by virtue of her long-term relationship with Senator (later President) Warren G. Harding.
She married James Phillips, and the couple moved to Marion where Phillips was co-proprietor of the Uhler-Phillips Company, one of Marion's leading dry goods establishments. The couple quickly rose through the ranks of local society, in large part due to Carrie’s charm and great beauty. Among Mrs. Phillips's friends and confidants was Florence Harding, wife of the owner and publisher of the city's leading newspaper, The Marion Star.
James and Carrie had two children: daughter Isabel and son James, Jr. The boy died as only a toddler, and during this time of grief Mrs. Phillips and Mr. Harding grew close, despite their respective marriages and friendships. The Phillipses and the Hardings undertook tours of Europe together; all the while Carrie Phillips and Harding carried on their intimate relationship.
Once the affair came to light, Florence Harding was furious and felt betrayed. This was not the first time that her husband had entered into an affair with a woman who she considered a friend. Phillips, too, was displeased with his wife’s conduct. To separate the two and to allow time for the marriages to be reconciled, Phillips took his family and returned to Europe, leaving the Hardings to tough it out in Marion. While in Germany, Carrie became immersed in German culture, and refused to return to the United States at the tour's end, insisting she and their daughter stay behind. James Phillips returned to the United States alone.
While Carrie was still in Europe, Harding ran for the United States Senate. As Europe moved closer to the brink of war, Carrie begrudgingly returned to the States. Her passion for Germany was very well known. At every opportunity, she pled Germany’s case. Once she returned to Marion, her affair with Harding reignited. Phillips threatened to expose the affair if Harding voted in favor of war with Germany, but did not follow through on this threat.
In the summer of 1920, immediately following acceptance of the Republican nomination, Harding disclosed his affair with Mrs. Phillips to the party bosses, and also disclosed that Mrs. Phillips was in the possession of hundreds of love letters he had written to her, many on Senate stationery. Afraid of a scandal involving both an affair as well as Mrs. Phillips' government files for supporting Germany in the recent war, the party bosses impressed upon Mr. and Mrs. Phillips the importance that their travel abroad could keep the matter quiet. Carrie refused, and immediately dictated the terms under which she would consider the party's wishes. In return for Mrs. Phillips' silence on the matter, the Republican Party would pay for an extended tour of Asia and the Pacific Islands, as well as an annual stipend to Mrs. Phillips in return for her silence on the matter for the remainder of her life.
After Mrs. Harding's death in 1924, Carrie Phillips returned to Germany under the guise of finding a suitable husband for her daughter. James Phillips, by this time exhibiting signs of heavy drinking, remained in Marion, Ohio alone. Following the crash of 1929, Phillips lost control of his holdings and had to rely upon his wife's income. Stripped of his dignity, James Phillips succumbed to alcoholism. Near the end of his life, he was known to wander the streets of downtown Marion panhandling money for drink. He died in a back-room walkup at the Marion Hotel in 1939, shortly after his estranged wife's return from Europe.
During World War II Carrie Phillips heavily supported the German cause as she had in World War I, and again, the federal government began tracking her activities, including meetings with other enthusiastic supporters of Germany including Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh.
In her later years, Carrie Phillips was known as an eccentric. Her Marion home was overrun with German Shepherds, and she was known to walk the dogs while wearing large mink coats with little on underneath. In the late 1950s, before she was placed under a guardianship for her own protection, Carrie Phillips handed over her cache of love letters written by Harding to Francis Russell, an author working on another biography of Harding, on the condition that they remain a secret until her death.
In a subsequent legal action, Isabel Mathee joined the Hardings and received a temporary injunction that prevented Russell's inclusion of the material in his book, The Shadow of Blooming Grove. Ultimately, the court ruled that the letters would be sealed until 2023, the 100th anniversary of Harding's death, at which time their contents would be made public. The material is now in the possession of the National Archives, with copies held at Ohio Historical Society.
However Cleveland, Ohio attorney James Robenalt ascertained that the letters from Harding to Phillips had fallen out of copyright in 2003, seventy years after the death of the author (in this case, Warren G. Harding) had passed. Robenalt used a microfilm copy of the letters to write The Harding Affair: Love And Espionage During the Great War (2009, Palgrave Macmillian) scheduled for release on September 1, 2009. Advance copies of the book prove that the letters document an affair between Harding and Phillips, as well as Harding's efforts to deal with Carrie Phillips' increasing hostility toward Harding's public life and refusal to leave his wife. The letters also prove the degree of loyalty that Phillips held towards Germany the era from 1905 to 1923. Counter to speculation based on the secretive nature of the court's move to suppress the documents, the letters are neither graphic nor pornographic in their content.
Carrie Fulton Phillips was buried in Marion Cemetery, next to her husband and their infant son. Their daughter Isabel, and her German-born husband, William Helmuth Mathee, are also buried in the family plot. There are no known living heirs.
Another Marion native, Nan Britton, also claimed an affair with Harding, but her assertions have never been established as factual. Also, the paternity of the daughter that she said was conceived with Harding, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing (née Christian), was never established or accepted by a court of law, and, of course, DNA testing was not available at the time.
- Robenalt, James D. The Harding Affair, Love and Espionage During the Great War. Plagrave Macmillian (2009), ISBN 978-0-230-60964-8.