It’s official: the Harding Presidential Sites have entered a new era.
After a year’s delay due to the pandemic, members of the Ohio History Connection, private donors, Harding family members and special guests celebrated the transformation at the Harding Sites. The dedication was held outdoors in a large tent on the site grounds on Friday, Sept. 24.
Keynote speaker Bob Taft, former Ohio governor, emphasized the parallels between present day and the Harding presidency 100 years ago. “Above all else,” he said, “Harding lifted the spirits of a country that had been devastated by the flu pandemic, by war and recession, terrorist bombings, lynching and race riots. Our democracy was under stress…He resonated with the public who loved him and he remained popular throughout his presidency.”
Taft underscored a list of Harding accomplishments: negotiating the official end of World War I; building veterans hospitals; creating the Bureau of the Budget and modernizing the federal budget system; working with Congress to enact laws to help farmers recover from the war; hosting the first world arms control conference; implementing the first large-scale federal highway act; and crafting a Maternity and Infant Protection Act to reduce infant mortality.
Harding displayed political courage, Taft said, when he pardoned Socialist Eugene Debs and 23 others who were political prisoners, and pushed for anti-lynching legislation. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who led off a list of speakers, said Harding was elected with an eye to the future. He pointed to Harding as crucial to laying the groundwork for a new American era, one built on innovation, invention and prosperity.
Fran DeWine, Ohio’s First Lady, paid tribute to Florence Kling Harding, pointing to her efforts to call attention to female journalists, artists, musicians and athletes. She regularly hosted women on the fringes of society, notably, single and divorced mothers. Her constant presence in the hospital wards around Washington, D.C., was a comfort to disabled soldiers.
Other speakers offering their viewpoints on the public/private partnership created to restore the Harding Home and build the Harding Presidential Library & Museum were Mayor Scott Schertzer of Marion, State Rep. Tracy Richardson and State Sen. Bill Reineke. Dean Jacob, of the Marion Community Foundation, represented the major private donors backing the project, as well as the Harding Cabinet. The Cabinet was formed as a sounding board for the Harding Sites as it fundraised. U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, honorary co-chairs of the project, were represented by staff members, as was Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.
Ann Harding Hoxie, grand-niece of President Harding and granddaughter the president’s brother, Dr. George T. Harding Jr., offered remarks from the Harding family. Burt Logan, Executive Director and CEO of the Ohio History Connection, led the program, aided by Tom Chema, Board President of the Ohio History Connection. The Harding Sites are part of the OHC network of historic sites.
The previous day, the core team of Ohio History Connection members who worked on the project were honored by the OHC Board of Trustees. Included in that recognition were Fred Smith, Beth McFarlane and Sara Vandenbark, Architectural Services; Restoration Coordinator Chris Buchanan; Harding Sites Manager Sherry Hall; Assistant Curactor of Archaeology Meghan Marley; Exhibit Design Director Bill Mahon; Elizabeth Nelson, Collections Management; and Megan Wood, Cultural Resources Division Director.