Long before Monica Lewinsky and the scandal that clouded Bill Clinton’s presidency, there was Nan Britton, the woman who publicly claimed to have borne President William Harding’s love child and was subsequently denounced as a “pervert” and accused of lying for money.
Now, nearly 100 years later, genetic testing confirms what Britton claimed in 1927–that Harding fathered her daughter shortly before he was elected president in 1920.
This revelation partially re-writes the history of America’s 29th president, who died in office in 1923 at the age of 57. After Harding died–and Britton discovered that he had not arranged to support their daughter–she wrote a popular tell-all book called “The President’s Daughter” in 1927, which incited a fierce backlash from his supporters who felt she was tarnishing his legacy. Although not the first time a president was accused of an extramarital affair, the book’s scandalous stories of carnal adventures in a White House coat closet rocked the nation with its unprecedented, diffuse public reach.
Britton’s claims in 1927 were complicated by her lack of proof. She claimed that her only evidence-aside from, of course, her child-were love letters from Harding that she destroyed at his request. Harding’s family, in turn, insisted that the child was an impossibility because the president was sterile. Britton was 31 years younger than Harding.
Peter Harding, the president’s grandnephew, instigated the DNA testing by contacting one of Britton’s grandsons, James Blaesing. They used AncestryDNA, a division of Ancestry.com, for the genetic testing which found they were related, The New York Times reported.
Blaesing told The New York Times that his family lived under the shadow of the scandal-and its perceived falsehood-for decades. “I wanted to prove who she was and prove everyone wrong,” he said.
Blaesing also recalled the enduring way his grandmother felt about the president, even through the scandal. “She loved him until the day she died,” he told The New York Times. “When she talked about him, she would get the biggest smile on her face. She just loved this guy. He was everything.”