Nan Britton (Nanna Popham Britton)

Nan Britton

Born in Marion, Ohio, Nan Britton developed an obsession with Harding, who was a friend of her father. As a young girl, her bedroom walls were covered with Harding’s pictures from local papers and magazines. While not even 16 years old, she would loiter near his Marion Daily Star building in Marion, hoping to see him on his walk home from work. Nan’s father, Dr. Samuel H. Britton, spoke to Harding about his daughter’s infatuation, and Harding met with her, claiming he told her that some day she would find the man of her dreams. At the time, Harding was already involved in a passionate affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, wife of James Phillips, co-owner of a local department store. After she graduated from high school in 1914, Nan Britton moved to New York City, to begin a career as a secretary. However, she claimed she also began an intimate relationship with Harding. Following Harding’s death, Britton wrote what is considered to be the first kiss-and-tell book. In The President’s Daughter, published in 1928, she claimed she had been Harding’s mistress all during his presidency, naming him as the father of her daughter, Elizabeth Ann (1919–2005). One famous passage told of their making love in a coat closet in the executive office of the White House. According to Britton, Harding had promised to support their daughter, but after his sudden death in 1923, his wife refused to honor the obligation. Britton insisted she wrote the book to earn money to support her daughter and to champion the rights of illegitimate children. She brought a lawsuit (Britton v. Klunk), but she was unable to provide any concrete evidence and was shaken by the vicious personal attacks made by Congressman Grant Mouser during the cross examination, which cost her the case.

Nan Britton’s memoirs seem sincere, but her portrayal of Harding and his colloquialisms paints a picture of a crude womanizer. In his 1931 book Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, Frederick Lewis Allen wrote that on the testimony of Britton’s book, Harding’s private life was “one of cheap sex episodes” and that “one sees with deadly clarity the essential ordinariness of the man, the commonness of his ‘Gee dearie’ and ‘Say, you darling’.” Britton’s book was among those irreverently reviewed by Dorothy Parker for The New Yorker magazine as part of her famous Constant Reader column, under the title “An American DuBarry.” In 1964, the “discovery of more than 250 love letters that Mr. Harding had written to Mrs. James Phillips of Marion Ohio, between 1909 and 1920” gave further support to Britton’s own claims. Journalist R.W. Apple found Britton, who had long lived in seclusion, but was refused an interview. At the time, she was living in the Chicago area. Even at this time, over a generation later, her daughter and grandchildren would “occasionally be hounded by hateful skeptics” with threats and other unwanted attention that seemed to intensify during presidential elections. In the 1980s, Nan Britton and her extended family moved to Oregon, where her three grandchildren currently live. Britton died in 1991 in Sandy, Oregon, where she had lived during the last years of her life. She insisted until her death that Harding was her daughter’s father. 24 years after her death, in 2015, confirmed through DNA testing of descendants of Harding’s brother and Britton’s grandchildren that Elizabeth was indeed Harding’s daughter.

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  • November, 09, 1896
  • USA
  • Marion, Ohio


  • March, 21, 1991
  • USA
  • Sandy, Oregon


  • Pleasant Valley Cemetery
  • Howard, Ohio
  • USA

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