In her 1928 book The President’s Daughter, Ohioan Nan Britton told the world a truth they refused to believe: she and President Warren Harding conceived a child years before he became the 29th president of the United States. Their daughter, Elizabeth Ann Britton Blaesing was born in 1919. Even after the married man became the nation’s leader in 1921, Britton recalled meeting in “a small closet in the anteroom” in the West Wing, where the two “made love.”
Britton’s claims were proven true this month by genetic testing after nearly a century of dispute. DNA from Blaesing’s son, James, “show[ed with] 99.9 percent certainty that James Blaesing is a second cousin with Peter Harding,” one of the two Harding descendants also tested. James Blaesing told The New York Times that his mother lived her life scorned and “belittled” by others who refused to believe she was Harding’s daughter. Elizabeth Blaesing died in 2005, but her son never stopped believing the story told by his grandmother, Nan, whom he said loved Harding “until the day she died.”
Britton was 31 years younger than Harding and the first presidential mistress to write a tell-all about such an affair, which lasted six-and-a-half years. The president never met his love child, but provided financial support upon her birth in 1919. When he died in 1923 at 57, having spent only two years in the Oval Office, Britton and her daughter were kept out of Harding’s will. The young mother and her four-year-old were penniless. Shunned by his family, who claimed Harding was sterile, and the public, who labeled Britton a “degenerate” and “pervert,” The President’s Daughter allowed a woman to speak her truth to support her family.
Warren Harding had other affairs, and is far from the only American president to face a sex scandal resulting in an alleged love child (or six — looking at you, Thomas Jefferson). But now, Nan Britton is a rarity among mistresses who were cast out for having an affair with a U.S. president: her story, her legacy, has been vindicated.
Britton faced public shame, a collective act described as “blood sport [that] has to stop” by Monica Lewinsky in “The Price of Truth,” a TEDx speech she gave in March. Long after Britton’s name was dragged through the mud, Lewinsky became the self-described “first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet” when the public learned of her sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton in January 1998. Despite widely differing circumstances—Britton released her story willingly, for example—the two women are united through other women-ness, both punished in the public eye for being sexually active and engaging with powerful men.
Like Nan Britton, Lewinsky endured widespread humiliation that nearly broke her. “Some of you younger people might only know me from some rap lyrics,” she told a crowd in February. But in her TEDx talk, the 42-year-old is reclaiming her truth. Speaking out just like Britton did long ago, pushing back against a culture of shame, Lewinsky delivers a powerful, brave speech. Watch it below.
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