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6 things Presidents do in their spare time

November 4th, 2009

Did you ever wonder what the President does when he’s not being presidential? The Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has outlined an extensive reference resource of each of our nation’s leaders, including what they did on their off times. Warren G. Harding, called the worst President in the nation’s history by many historians, was known for having a few friends in to share the booze he ordered as medical supplies and kept at the White House despite the national prohibition of alcohol. He also was the host for poker games twice a week, as well participating in the usual presidential golfing and yachting. In what Harding obviously expected to be an even more private life, he had extra-marital affairs with at least two women. One of the women, Nan Britton, revealed one of the affairs in detail in a book she published in 1927. This romance began in 1917 and continued until his death in 1923. Britton, 30 years younger than Harding, gave birth to Elizabeth Ann Christian in 1919. Child support payments were delivered by the Secret Service, though the President reportedly never saw the girl. The President and Britton reportedly met often in the Oval Office. Harding’s affair with Carrie Phillips apparently began in 1905 and continued more than 15 years but remained pretty much secret until 1963, when love letters written by the President were discovered. Phillips and her husband apparently kept quiet about the affair after receiving a free trip to Japan and a $20,000 payment, followed by more money each month, courtesy of the Republican National Committee. Harding and his wife, Florence, had no children.

Then there was Millard Fillmore. Nearly every American male smoked, drank or gambled during the Fillmore years, while the President did none of those. His wife was not the in the best of health and the Fillmores spent most of their spare time upstairs in the White House, working or reading while their daughter played the piano. Herbert Hoover basically had no spare time during his day-to-day existence. He was not known as a friendly or talkative man and often would work as many as 18 hours in a day. When he did find the time, Hoover left the White House behind. He took his staff on trips to Florida and the Caribbean. He and his family built a retreat that was inaccessible by car in the mountains of Virginia. Whether on vacation with staff or with family, fishing was always on the agenda for this President.

Gerald Ford was one of the most active presidents in his spare time. He took his family on skiing trips to Colorado, went horseback riding, played golf and tennis and worked out with weights daily. Despite his athletic abilities, television comedians portrayed him as clumsy. Wholesome music and parties filled the White House during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes’ wife, Lucy, sang and played the guitar for the Sunday evening “sings” and other singers and instrumentalists performed at the White House. The President, his family and guests sat up until 3:30 one morning to listen to Thomas A. Edison demonstrate his latest creation, the phonograph.

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