Carrie Fulton Phillips

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Carrie Fulton Phillips
Portrait of Carrie Fulton Phillips holding two puppies.jpg
Born Caroline Fulton
Died 1960
Marion, Ohio
Nationality USA
Known for The mistress of Warren G. Harding from 1905 until 1920

Carrie Phillips (b. Caroline Fulton on September 22, 1873, near Bucyrus, Ohio – d. February 3, 1960, Marion, Ohio [1]) was the mistress of Warren G. Harding,[2] 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 of the U.S.[3]

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) Harding.[4]

Early life[edit]

Born September 22, 1873, in Dayton, Ohio, Carrie was the only daughter of Matthew Henry Fulton (1840–1906) and his wife Kate M. Swingly (1851 – after 1873).[5] She had five younger brothers: George Fred, Percy Matthew, James Edward, Thomas Durman, and Chester Courtney Fulton.[6] She was raised by her parents in Bucyrus, Ohio, where her father was a telegraph operator.

Her paternal grandfather, George Washington Fulton (1802–1864), was a successful businessman and engineer[7] active in developing the town of New Brighton, Pennsylvania. George married Mary Ann Kennedy (1812–1887), a sister of Matthew T. Kennedy (1804–1884) and Samuel Kennedy (1810–1886), brothers who established the Kennedy Keg Works first at Fallston, Pennsylvania (1836), and later opened a second operation in New Brighton (1876). George was successful in various ventures, from lumber to real estate, some in connection with his brothers-in-law, with his family reaping the advantages of his success in wealth, comfort, and education.

She married James Phillips in 1896,[8] 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.

Affair with Warren Harding[edit]

James and Carrie had two children: daughter Isabel (1897–1968) and son James, Jr. (1899–1901). 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 for the remainder of her life.[citation needed]

In June 1923, Warren Harding embarked on a western tour of the country, despite a decline in his health, and died in San Francisco, California on August 2, 1923.[9] The cause of his death has been a matter of speculation: that he was poisoned by his wife, was accidentally and inappropriately prescribed stimulating medicines by an incompetent yet trusted doctor, suffered food poisoning, or simply had a severe heart attack.[10] His wife, Florence, died 15 months later on November 22, 1924 in Marion, Ohio.[11]

After the affair[edit]

After Mrs. Harding's death in 1924, Carrie Phillips returned to Germany. 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 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.[12]

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.

Carrie Fulton Phillips died on February 3, 1960 at age 86.[13] She 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. Isabel and her husband had a son, also named William Helmut Mathee (1920–1988). There are no known living heirs.

Following Carrie's death, the love letters became the centerpiece of a court battle that pitted Carrie’s daughter, Isabel Phillips Mathee, against nephews of Warren G. Harding. The Library of Congress publicly opened letters between Phillips and Harding on July 29, 2014.[14]

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.

Another, much younger Marion native, Nan Britton (1896-1991), also claimed an affair with the 31-years older Harding.[15] She had a daughter with him, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing (née Christian) (1919-2005), a few months before Harding announced to run for president, but paternity was not established or accepted by a court of law in her or her daughter's lifetime.[16] Until at least 2013, descendants of Harding and Blaesing had declined to participate in a DNA screening.[17] Britton's assertions were finally established as factual in August 2015, when genetic tests confirmed Harding as the father of Elizabeth.[18]

Love letters[edit]

In 1964 about 1,000 pages of letters written by Harding to Phillips between 1910 and 1920 were found. They were written while Harding was lieutenant governor of Ohio and then a US senator. After their discovery the letters were sealed by the Harding family, who handed them over to the Library of Congress on the condition that they not be released to the general public for 50 years.[19] On July 29, 2014 the 1000 pages of letters were placed on-line. In 2009 the historian and lawyer James Robenalt published a smaller collection based on microfilm copies which had been placed in Cleveland’s Western Reserve Historical Society. The collection is found in Robenalt’s book The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War,[20] as well as on Robenalt’s web site.[21]


  1. ^ Ohio, Deaths, 1908–1932, 1938–2007; Detail: Certificate: 14694; Volume: 16068
  2. ^ Robenalt, James David, The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage during the Great War, Palgrave Macmillan: 2009.
  3. ^ Weiland, Noah (July 23, 2014). "Harding’s Love Letters to Mistress May Actually Help His Image, Historians Say". ABC News. Retrieved July 28, 2014. The affair ended when Phillips blackmailed Harding after entering the White House in 1921. 
  4. ^ The Washington Post Company | June 7, 1998 | Carl Sferrazza Anthony, "A President Of the Peephole", accessed April 9, 2014
  5. ^ 1880 United States Federal Census; Detail: Year: 1880; Census Place: Bucyrus, Crawford, Ohio; Roll: 1003; Family History Film: 1255003; Page: 346A; Enumeration District: 097; Image: 0707
  6. ^ 1900 United States Federal Census; Detail: Year: 1900; Census Place: Marion Ward 3, Marion, Ohio; Roll: 1302; Page: 19A; Enumeration District: 0060; FHL microfilm: 1241302
  7. ^ 1860; Census Place: New Brighton, Beaver, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1071; Page: 495; Image: 501; Family History Library Film: 805071
  8. ^ 1900 United States Federal Census; Detail: Year: 1900; Census Place: Marion Ward 3, Marion, Ohio; Roll: 1302; Page: 19A; Enumeration District: 0060; FHL microfilm: 1241302
  9. ^ California, Death Index, 1905-1939 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.
  10. ^ The National First Ladies' Library | "First Lady Biography: Florence Harding", accessed April 9, 2014
  11. ^ Ohio Obituary Index, 1830s-2011, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
  12. ^ Ohio. Division of Vital Statistics. Death Certificates and Index, December 20, 1908 – December 31, 1953. State Archives Series 3094. Ohio Historical Society, Ohio.
  13. ^ Ohio. Division of Vital Statistics. Death Certificates and Index, December 20, 1908 – December 31, 1953. State Archives Series 3094. Ohio Historical Society, Ohio.
  14. ^ Politico | "Warren Harding affair letters going public", accessed July 6, 2014
  15. ^ Britton, Nan, The President's Daughter, Elizabeth Ann Guild Inc.: June 23, 1927.
  16. ^ Payne, Phillip (June 12, 2006). "A DNA Test to Determine if Nan Britton and Harding Were Lovers?". History News Network. George Mason University. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
  17. ^ Scandalous Women | February 18, 2013 | Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, "Presidential Scandals: The Affairs of Warren G. Harding", accessed April 9, 2014
  18. ^ Baker, Peter (August 12, 2015). "DNA Is Said to Solve a Mystery of Warren Harding’s Love Life". New York Times. 
  19. ^ Weiland, Noah (July 23, 2014). "Harding’s Love Letters to Mistress May Actually Help His Image, Historians Say". ABC News. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Warren Harding letters reveal steamy side of 29th president". New York Post. July 23, 2014. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
  21. ^ "The Letters". The Harding Affair:Love and Espionage During the Great War. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 


  • Robenalt, James D. The Harding Affair, Love and Espionage During the Great War Plagrave Macmillian (2009), ISBN 978-0-230-60964-8.

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