She knew she was never considered a beauty and she balked at having to pose for news photographers during her husband’s 1920 presidential campaign, but when someone threatened to use a picture of her biking from the 1890s, she grinned for the cameras. She declared to the newsreel cameramen who set up their tripods to take “moving picture” images of her, however, that she would never pose for them if she got into the White House.
It was vanity which gave her pause about how she looked in public and she took to wear a black velvet neckband to cover her throat. Ironically, however, finding her a role model whose life and attitude they found accessible and relevant to their own, it was the young women of the country who soon copied her unique bit of fashion, calling them “flossie clings,” a double-entendre for the fact that the neckbands were shiny and clung to the neck, as well as it being the new Firsrt Lady’s maiden name.First Lady Florence “Flossie” Kling DeWolfe Harding may have been a bit too modern and accessible for the staid Society stiffs who deemed themselves the ruling class of Washington when she entered the White House in 1921, but the nation responded well to her, captivated by her assertive efforts to encourage equality for women in politics, economics and professional life, and to make the White House, the President and herself more accessible to the average citizen.
Having publicly declared herself “a suffragist” even before passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, bravely ascending the sky to become the first First Lady to take a ride on an airplane, introducing jazz music at her White House garden parties, adapting her wardrobe to reflect the more liberated look of the Roaring Twenties, and even buying the very first radio to be used in the presidential mansion, Florence Harding was one of those White House residents who embraced the pop culture then electrifying the nation.Introduced to the burgeoning film industry and its leaders, like D.W. Griffith, through her companionate friend the millionairess owner of the Hope Diamond, Evalyn Walsh McLean (who created her own home film studio), First Lady Florence Harding also invited the stars of Hollywood movies to the White House as guests for the first time and likewise set a new precedent by screening a feature film for guests as entertainment after a formal dinner.
Even before she became First Lady, however, while the wof a U.S. Senator, she had come to attend the opening day ceremoes of Universal Studios while on a junket tour of California with her husband.
So fascinated did she become with the power of film by the time she was in the White House that she even gamely churned out some celluloid on a newsreel camera herself, delighting the gathering of women reporters who watched her.And sure enough, it wasn’t very long before she grudingly agreed to pose for the “moving picture” cameramen.
She put that attitude in motion, committing her schedule to various public awareness efforts, legislative lobbying and leadership roles on behalf of women, disabled and wounded serviceman, abused and neglected animals and other causes, the “star” of public appearances at various ceremonies on her own, without the President.
Sixty years old at the time she became First Lady on March 4, 1921, Florence Harding quickly learned to overcome her insecurities and make a bit of history, becoming the very first First Lady to appear in her own newsreel shorts shown in the nation’s movie palaces between double-features.
Set to the popular music of Hal Roach shorts (most familiarly as the sound of “Our Gang” comedies) Here is a compilation of five such appearances, including three at the White House on behalf of Armenian relief, with Filipina women in Washington calling for independence of their nation, and planting a tree with the aged actress Lillian Russell:
- Michelle Obama’s Chicago Speech in Historic Context (carlanthonyonline.com)
- The National News: The forgotten newsreel (terencegallacher.wordpress.com)