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Arts & Culture

DNA Test Reveals President Warren Harding Had A Love Child

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It was a huge scandal, even for a hugely scandalous decade. When President Warren G. Harding occupied the White House in the roaring '20s, his womanizing was well known. And when Harding died - it was thought childless - in office in 1923, he left behind a mistress, Nan Britton, who claimed that her daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, was in fact Harding's daughter, too. In 1927, when she was in need of money, Britton published a book about it called "The President's Daughter." The Harding family claimed that he couldn't have been the father. Mumps had left him sterile, they said.

Well, now comes ancestry.com and DNA testing that back up the story of Nan Britton and disproved the old story about Harding's infertility. One result of this finding is that James Blaesing, a Portland, Ore., construction worker, is the grandson of an American president. Thanks for joining us on the program today.

JAMES BLAESING: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Were you ever in doubt as to who...

BLAESING: No.

SIEGEL: ...Who your mother's father was? No?

BLAESING: Never, never - no one ever doubted it in the family. My grandmother, a hundred percent, always told the truth.

SIEGEL: And your grandmother talked about her relationship with President Harding.

BLAESING: Oh yes. My mom used to always tell us growing up that she didn't like getting on the bus or the train with my grandmother because by the time they got to their destination, half the people on would know the story.

SIEGEL: I gather she spoke very fondly of President Harding.

BLAESING: Oh, cripes, he was the love of her life. When she talked about him, she would get the biggest smile on her face.

SIEGEL: So as I understand it, you and a grandnephew of President Harding, as well as a grandniece, all submitted DNA samples through ancestry.com, I guess, and the results came back saying what?

BLAESING: Saying that it was a 99-plus positive match.

SIEGEL: Now, in addition to Peter and Abigail, these, I guess, grandnephew and grandniece of President Harding, have other members of the Harding family been...

BLAESING: No.

SIEGEL: ...Been as welcoming to - no?

BLAESING: No, no. There's two sides to the family, I guess, and some of them are accepting it. Some of them are kind of excited about it now, and others aren't.

SIEGEL: Did you, as a young man, as a student, did you take a special interest in President Harding and learn about him?

BLAESING: Well, you know what it was? It's - when I used to go to school and we'd study Harding, they would just belittle him. And...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

BLAESING: ...I'd come home after being told that he was the worst president and all these problems, and it used to really bother me. And then after I grew up and had kids, my kids came home and had the same problem. So I really wanted to - I wanted to correct history because they talked about my grandmother all the time. And I used to go on Google up stories about it and it was always negative and calling her names. And it was just - I wanted to do something about this for the longest time.

SIEGEL: Well, how important is this validation for you, since, as you say, you've known it all along. You've always believed your mother and your grandmother.

BLAESING: Well, it's really important to me 'cause I wanted everyone to know the truth. I think it's great for my grandmother. She must have a big smile on her face, and this is what she always was hoping for.

SIEGEL: Well, in that case, congratulations on this news.

BLAESING: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it's - to me, this is wonderful. It's time. It was right, and she deserves whatever she gets. She was a very strong woman.

SIEGEL: As I say then, congratulations to the Blaesing family...

BLAESING: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: ...And to you. Thanks a lot, Jim, for talking with us.

BLAESING: Thank you.

SIEGEL: James Blaesing of Portland, Ore., grandson of President Warren G. Harding. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.