Caroline F. Phillips

From Ohio History Central

Caroline (Carrie) Fulton Phillips had an affair with President Warren G. Harding, an Ohioan. The affair occurred before Harding won election to the presidency.

Phillips was born on September 22, 1873, near Bucyrus, Ohio. As a young woman, she married James Phillips, who owned the Uhler-Phillips Company, a dry goods company in Marion, Ohio. The Phillips family quickly became leaders of the social scene in Marion and became good friends with Harding and his wife, Florence. When the couples first met, Harding was editor of the Marion Star.

Warren G. Harding's and Carrie Phillips's intimate relationship supposedly blossomed following the death of Phillips's toddler son, James, Jr. The relationship continued for several years, including while Harding served in the United States Senate. Both Florence Harding and James Phillips eventually discovered the affair, but their attempts to end it failed. Hoping to prevent the affair from continuing, Phillips allowed his wife to remain in Germany for several years before World War I. Carrie Phillips developed an immense love for German culture and also grew fond of German Shepard dogs. With the beginning of World War I, Phillips returned to Marion, where her affair with Harding continued. Her love of Germany was so strong that she purportedly threatened Senator Harding with revealing his affair to the public if he voted for war with Germany during World War I. Harding did vote for war, but Phillips did not reveal the affair.

When Harding received the Republican Party's nomination for President of the United States in 1920, he revealed his affair to party officials. These officials contacted Carrie Phillips and encouraged her to keep the affair silent. Phillips refused unless the Republican Party agreed to pay her for her silence. Party officials agreed to finance an extended visit to Asia for Phillips. They also agreed to pay her a yearly stipend, which the Republican Party would pay until her death.

Phillips did agree to remain silent, but during Harding's presidency, rumors of the affair became known by the U.S. public. Revelation of the affair caused people to further view Harding in a negative manner, especially after several other scandals, including the Teapot Dome Scandal, occurred during his presidency.

Phillips remained married to James Phillips until his death in 1939. He lost his business during the Great Depression, and he had to rely on his wife's stipend from the Republican Party to survive economically. He also purportedly became a panhandler, asking the residents of Marion for money to purchase alcohol. Carrie Phillips continued to travel extensively, especially to Germany. During World War II, she again strongly supported Germany in the conflict. She continued to reside in Marion, where she raised German Shepards. She became well known for walking her dogs while wearing a long mink coat. Phillips died on February 3, 1960.

Before her death, Phillips turned over love letters that she received from Harding to Francis Russell, who was writing a biography of Harding's life. Phillips demanded that the letters not be used in Russell's book and that they remain private until following her death. Upon Phillips's death, her daughter and two of Harding's nephews succeeded in having the letters sealed until 2014. The letters are held by the Library of Congress.


  1. Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President. New York: W. Morrow & Co., 1998.
  2. Mee, Charles L., Jr. The Ohio Gang: The World of Warren G. Harding. New York, NY: M. Evans, 1981.
  3. Murray, Robert K. The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1969.
  4. Trani, Eugene P, and David L. Wilson. The Presidency of Warren G. Harding. Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1977.