By Mark A. Wallinger
On October 22, 1919, Elizabeth Ann Christian (later Blaesing) was born in Asbury Park. She was the new baby daughter of the sitting president of the United States.
Never heard of President Christian, or President Blaesing?
That’s because Elizabeth was the daughter of Nanna Popham (“Nan”) Britton (pictured above), who was the mistress of President Warren G. Harding. When they met in Marion, Ohio, he was the proprietor of the newspaper, The Marion Star. She was a teenager, and Harding, who wasn’t president yet, was already having an affair with his best friend’s wife.
Then, as author Bill Bryson wrote in One Summer – America 1927, “ Miss Britton did something that Warren Harding always found hard to resist: she grew into womanhood.”
She claimed to have lost her virginity to Harding on July 30, 1917. She later recalled that, moments after intercourse, the New York City Vice Squad broke down the door and Harding was forced to identify himself as a U.S. Senator (not yet President). She often accompanied candidate Harding on the campaign trail, typically introduced as his “niece.” She was in New York, because Harding had arranged for her to work at U.S. Steel Corporation.
Harding was a Republican, but since Marion County, Ohio, was most Democratic, he tempered his views accordingly and became a bit of a moderate, often understanding, if not sympathetic, to the Democrats’ points of view.
When he was nominated as a compromise candidate, he mostly campaigned from his front porch in Marion, offering a “return to normalcy” after World War I. He won by a landslide, urging disarmament, lower military costs, reduced income taxes that had been raised during the war, and building highways under the Federal Highway Act of 1921. He supported civil rights in the South and appointed four new justices to the Supreme Court. He signed the official Knox-Porter resolution (passed by Congress two days before ending the War) on July 4, 1921, at the Raritan estate of Sen. Joseph Frelinghuysen, the U.S. Senator from New Jersey.
Harding was immensely popular as president, although that was undone by many scandals and history records him as ranking among the worst Presidents ever.
But history makes strange bedfellows. Although president, he also continued his relationship with Britton, who became pregnant. Senator Harding moved her to a house in Atlantic City near a casino where he liked to play poker. She also stayed in the Hotel Marlborough (now the site of the Bally Hotel and Casino), then back to Asbury Park at 1210 Bond Street. As she waited to hear from the President, and for her baby to arrive, she often went “to a favorite grove in Spring Lake,” she would later write, where she would take the precious love letters that he sent her.
Harding made regular payments to her of $100 and $150, but never saw his child. When he died on Aug. 2, 1923, the payments stopped, as Harding family refused to continue support.
Then Nan Britton did something that started a whole new genre in literature: she wrote a tell-all book entitled: “The President’s Daughter.” It was so scandalous that no proper publisher would print it. Nan insisted that she received threats and her phone lines were continually cut. In fact, the printing plates for the book were torched! The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice arranged for the police to seize the unbound printed sheets and printing plates. When it was published in 1927 – by Elizabeth Ann Guild, Inc., because Britton couldn’t get funding – it wasn’t even reviewed by most newspapers.
But the public was more than just a little smitten with the book and the kiss-and-tell concept. It sold 50,000 copies at $5 per (roughly a half a day’s pay in those years).
It was generally dismissed in official circles, but the level of details of their trysts at the White House (like a small closet in an ante-room not quite five feet square) as Secret Service agents were posted to ward off intruders, confirmed that she knew the building and much about the President. In 2015, after years of denial, DNA tests confirmed the fact that Elizabeth Ann was Harding’s daughter. Also, many insiders knew Harding was blackmailed by another woman he had had an affair with – Carrie Fulton – who became the only woman to successfully extort a sitting U.S. president.
In his 1983 book entitled “My Search for Warren Harding,” Robert Plunkett wrote his review of The President’s Daughter noting:
Harding comes across as almost comic, very bumbling and very horny. Of his political life we learn little, but of his personal life we are given what is probably the most insightful delineation of his character ever put down on paper. He turns out to be quite a lover – his penis had a nickname – and wonderfully attentive. He wrote 50-page love letters while sitting in the Senate chamber, and he and Nan were always going on little trips. He loved to have her drive him around, and dubbed her, with surprising grammatical accuracy, as “my little chauffeuse.”
No wonder the general public found it attractive.
Elizabeth Ann was given to her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Scott Willits of Athens, Ohio, to be raised. Once the book was published, Britton and her daughter reunited. Elizabeth eventually moved to Chicago then to California with her husband and sons. She died on November 17, 2005 in Welches, Oregon.
About the author:
Mark A. Wallinger is a former award-winning professional journalist and a senior marketing and sales executive with a passion for history. A native of New Jersey, Mr. Wallinger currently resides in Westerville, Ohio, home state of Warren G. Harding.
Baker, Peter. (2015). DNA Is Said to Solve a Mystery of Warren Harding’s Love Life. The New York Times, August 12, 2015, P. A12.
Britton, Nan. (1927). The President’s Daughter. Elizabeth Ann Guild, Inc., publishers, 1927.
Bryson, Bill. (2013). One Summer: America 1927. Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York, N.Y., 2014.
Plunkett, Robert. (1992). My Search for Warren Harding. HarperPerennial, New York, N.Y., 1992.