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. The young Carrie Fulton was known by admirers to have epitomized the Gibson Girl portrait of beauty, a look popular in at the turn of the 20th century. Her relationship with Senator Warren G. Harding was kept secret from the public during its time and for decades thereafter. The affair ended when Phillips blackmailed Harding during the Senator's run for office for President of the United States.[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, Phillips 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 established themselves as active members of the local society, in large part due to Phillips’ charm and beauty. Among 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 a toddler, and, during this time of grief Mrs. Phillips and Mr. Warren Harding grew close, despite their respective marriages and friendships. The Phillips' and the Hardings undertook tours of Europe together, all the while Phillips and Harding carried on their intimate relationship.

After the affair came to light, Florence Harding, Warren Harding's wife, was furious and reportedly felt betrayed. She claimed that this was not the first time that her husband had entered into an affair with a woman who she considered a friend. To separate the two lovers and allow time for the respective marriages to be reconciled, the Phillips family returned to Europe, leaving the Hardings in Marion. While in Germany, Mrs. Phillips became immersed in German culture, declining a return voyage to the United States and insisting she and their daughter stay in Germany. James Phillips returned to the United States alone.

While Mrs. Phillips was in Europe, Mr. Harding ran for the United States Senate. As Europe moved closer to the brink of war, Phillips returned to the United States. Her passion for Germany was very well known. Upon returning to Marion, Phillips' affair with Harding reignited. Phillips reportedly threatened to expose the affair if Harding voted in favor of war with Germany.

In the summer of 1920 immediately following his acceptance of the Republican Party nomination, Harding disclosed his affair with Mrs. Phillips, also disclosing that Phillips was in the possession of hundreds of love letters he had written to her, many on Senate stationery. Reportedly weary of a scandal involving an affair as well as Phillips' support of the German government, the Republican Party urged Mr. and Mrs. Phillips to keep their travels abroad a private matter. Mr.s Phillips responded by dictating terms under which she would consider the party's wishes. In return for Phillips' silence on the matter, the Republican Party offered to pay the way for an extended tour of Asia and the Pacific Islands, as well as an annual stipend to Phillips for the remainder of her life.[citation needed]

In June 1923, Warren Harding embarked on a western tour of the United States despite a recent decline in health. Harding died shortly after in San Francisco, California, August 2, 1923.[9] The cause of death has been a matter of speculation. Rumors hold that he: Succumbed to poison by his wife, Florence Harding; was accidentally prescribed stimulating medicines resulting in death, food poisoning resulting in death, or death due to a heart attack.[10] His Mrs. Harding died 15 months later on November 22, 1924 in Marion, Ohio.[11]

After the affair[edit]

After Mrs. Harding's death, Mrs. Phillips relocated to Germany. Mr. Phillips, exhibiting signs of heavy drinking, remained in Marion, Ohio. Following the crash of 1929, Mr. Phillips lost control of his holdings and came to rely upon his spouse's income to maintain for livelihood. Phillips thereafter succumbed to alcoholism. Near the end of his life, he was known to wander the streets of downtown Marion panhandling. He died at the Marion Hotel in 1939, shortly after his estranged wife's return from Europe.[12]

During World War II Mrs. Phillips heavily supported Germany. The United States government began tracking her activities, including meetings with Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh.

In her later years, Phillips was known as an eccentric. Her Marion home was home to many German Shepherds and she was known to walk the dogs while wearing large mink coats with few undergarments.

Carrie Fulton Phillips died on February 3, 1960 at age 86.[13] She was buried in Marion Cemetery, next to her first husband and infant son. Their daughter Isabel, and second husband, William Helmuth Mathee, are also buried in the family plot. Phillips and her husband had a son, also named William Helmut Mathee (1920–1988). There are no known living heirs.

Following Phillip's death, the love letters to Warren Harding became the centerpiece of a court battle that pitted Phillips’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 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-year elder Harding.[15] Britton bore a daughter with Harding, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing (née Christian) (1919-2005), a few months before Harding announced his run for the presidency. Paternity was not accepted by court of law during Britton's nor her daughter's lifetime.[16] Until 2013, descendants of Harding and Blaesing families declined to participate in a DNA screening.[17] Britton's assertions of an heir to the Harding lineage were established August 2015, when genetic tests confirmed Harding as the father of Elizabeth Britton.[18]

Love letters[edit]

In 1964 about 1,000 pages of love letters written by Harding to Phillips between the years 1910 and 1920 were discovered. The letters were written while Harding was lieutenant governor of Ohio and subsequently as a sitting US Senator. Upon discovery, the letters were sealed and handed over to the Library of Congress on condition that they not be released to the general public for 50 years.[19] On July 29, 2014, 1000 pages of the Harding-Phillips love letters became public. In 2009 the historian and lawyer, James Robenalt, published a smaller collection of letters, based on microfilm copies, located in Cleveland’s Western Reserve Historical Society. This collection has been reproduced 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 Palgrave Macmillan (2009), ISBN 978-0-230-60964-8.

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