The Ohio State University at Marion

Annual Harding Symposium to illuminate modern first ladies

Former U.S. Chief of Protocol, Capricia Marshall to speak at Ohio State Marion

President Warren G. Harding’s wife, Florence, is considered the first of the “modern” first ladies. The role of the presidents’ wives from Mrs. Harding’s day in the 1920s forward will be the theme of this year’s Warren G. Harding Symposium at The Ohio State University at Marion, July 17th and 18th. 

Titled “The Modern First Ladies: Portraits in Contrast,” the 2015 Harding Symposium promises a personal look into the world of presidential spouses. The Warren G. Harding Symposium is a collaboration between The Ohio State University at Marion, Ohio History Connection, National First Ladies Library, Marion Technical College, Harding Home & Memorial, and Marion Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The symposium features tours of the Harding Home Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Friday evening, July 17th, the opening reception at the Harding Centre (former Harding Hotel) in downtown Marion will feature a display of replica first ladies’

gowns from The National First Ladies Library, as well as demonstrations of the dances these political spouses may have enjoyed during their inaugural balls.

During panel discussions and workshop sessions Saturday afternoon, participants will hear from researchers and authors Sherry Hall, Cynthia Bittinger, and Annette Dunlap. Ms. Hall, who manages the Harding Home and Memorial will illuminate Florence Harding’s role in husband Warren’s career at The Marion Star and, eventually, as the nation’s 29th president. Florence Harding believed that all Americans were her constituency and that her role entailed more than simply being the White House hostess. 

"I feel that there is a great duty and responsibility which I must live up to," she explained as she led the campaign to care for America’s World War I veterans. 

She was the first of the presidential spouses to fly in an airplane. Ms. Hall will take an honest look at how Florence managed her kidney disease as well as a husband who became known for his marital infidelity.

Cynthia Bittinger served as the executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation in Plymouth, Vermont. She is the author of Grace Coolidge, Sudden Star and will explore how Mrs. Coolidge handled her instant rise to fame upon Harding’s death in 1923.

Annette B. Dunlap is an author, speaker, and journalist. She has been featured on C-Span’s First Ladies Series discussing the life and times of Lou Henry Hoover. A two-time Hoover Presidential scholar, she is currently at work on a biography of Mrs. Hoover. 

During the symposium’s second workshop, Patricia Krider, executive director of The National First Ladies Library, will explore the first ladies’ evolving roles from subservience to dominance in the gap between Florence Harding and Michelle Obama.

Former Secret Service Agent and White House Chief Usher Gary Walters served seven presidents from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush. In the symposium’s third session, Mr. Walters will describe, among many intimate details, how he played ping pong with President Carter and helped Nancy Reagan execute her plans in the White House.

The 2015 Harding Symposium will be capped off during a dinner and keynote address Saturday evening, July 18th by Cleveland native Capricia Marshall. She served as special assistant to First Lady Hillary Clinton from 1993 through 1997 then became the youngest White House social secretary in modern times from 1997 to 2001. Ms. Marshall served as chief of protocol of the United States from 2009 through 2013. During her keynote address, she will explore the art of diplomacy, leadership, and communication in the pressure cooker that is the modern White House.

Individual tickets for the entire Warren G. Harding Symposium are available at $100 per person. Student discounts are available. Individual pricing is available for single events. For more details and to register, visit or call 740-725-6340.