Eleanor Herman writes about presidents' pet names, wild nights out with prostitutes, trysts in the Oval Office and more in Sex with Presidents

By Morgan Smith
September 25, 2020 09:00 AM
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Courtesy Harper Collins Publishers

The bedroom romps of our nation’s leaders have dominated headlines for decades, dating as far back as Thomas Jefferson’s sexual relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, to porn star Stormy Daniels’ alleged 2006 tryst with President Donald Trump. (The White House has denied the allegations against Trump.)

In her new book Sex with Presidents, Eleanor Herman explores the lesser-known sex scandals involving America’s presidents and what they suggest about male leadership in the White House.

“Most men who think they should be in charge of this country have a lot of ego to begin with, they’re narcissists,” Herman tells PEOPLE. “The danger is when you have an egotistical narcissist to begin with who, suddenly given a lot of power, will get even crazier.”

This behavior often includes illicit sex, Herman adds. “There appears to be little difference between the thrills of seeking public power, with crowds of adoring fans, to seeking pubic power, with an adoring audience of one. The same compulsions that send a man hurtling toward the White House can also send him into a foolhardy tryst with a woman,” she writes.

Read on for some of the most unexpected, salacious revelations of our past presidents’ romantic lives from Herman’s book:

Hulton Archive/Getty (2); Getty

Woodrow Wilson’s pet name for his lover

When Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, died suddenly of Bright’s Disease in 1914, the then-president quickly grew lonely and craved the company of another woman. “I never dreamed such loneliness and desolation of heart possible,” Wilson wrote to his alleged secret girlfriend, Mary Peck, within hours of Ellen’s death.

Wilson would remarry only a year later — not to Peck, a divorced woman whom he had met during a trip to Bermuda, but the young, striking Edith Bolling Galt, a friend of Wilson’s cousin, Helen Bones.

Ahead of their wedding, the pair exchanged passionate love letters. Wilson wrote that Edith “turns to her lover and throws the gates wide — no, not quite wide yet, but wide enough to show him the sweet and holy places where her true spirit loves. He also told Edith she was his “perfect playmate” and began signing all of his letters with a cheeky nickname — “Tiger.”

Warren G. Harding’s mistresses and wild nights out with the Secret Service

Warren G. Harding, an endearing, handsome newspaper publisher from Ohio, won the presidency in 1921 on a ticket that promised a “return to normalcy” after the first World War, but his love life was anything but.

Harding’s alleged sexual dalliances with two women have been widely discussed throughout the years. There’s Carrie Fulton Phillips, the wife of the head of a department store in Ohio, and Nan Britton, a secretary who claimed in her book, The President's Daughter, that she was Harding’s mistress and shared a daughter, Elizabeth, with the former president.

According to Herman, the 29th president also had a proclivity for partying with prostitutes and getting drunk, even in the throes of Prohibition. He’d bring a few loyal Secret Service agents with him to the parties. Herman describes one particularly rowdy night out at the Love Nest, a bordello near the White House on K Street, where a prostitute was hit on the head with a bottle of champagne. “As her friends tried to revive her, Harding, who was leaning against a mantle, drunk, was hustled out of the building by his Secret Service agents,” Herman writes.

FDR’s “summer wives”

It was common for the wealthier men of Washington D.C. to send their wives and families to colder locales during the summer to escape the city's heat while they spent time with their “summer wives,” Herman writes, and Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was included in this group.

Herman says Roosevelt had an affair with Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd, his wife Eleanor's secretary at the time, while Eleanor and the kids were out of town. He was frequently spotted driving and sailing with Rutherfurd during the summer of 1917. According to Herman, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, let the pair meet up at her mansion. When asked why she supported the affair, Longworth reportedly told a family member, “Franklin deserved a good time. He was married to Eleanor.”

The affair greatly hurt FDR’s wife, Eleanor. "The bottom dropped out of my own particular world, and I faced myself, my surroundings, my world, honestly for the first time," Eleanor wrote to a friend upon discovering letters between the pair.

Though the affair fizzled out, a new woman would soon enter FDR's life: Marguerite Alice "Missy" LeHand, a striking young woman who served as his personal secretary and close confidante beginning in 1920 and through his presidency. His son, Elliott, acknowledges that the pair had an affair in his 1973 book: “He made no attempt to conceal his feelings about Missy.” Herman adds that Missy often sat on the lap of the president, whom she affectionately called “FD.”

Eleanor herself is speculated to have enjoyed a secret relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. Herman quotes from steamy letters between the two women in Sex with Presidents: “I can’t kiss you so I kiss your picture good night & good morning ….” Eleanor wrote to Hickok in one 1933 letter, saying; “I miss you so much and I love you so much.”

Lyndon B. Johnson’s buzzer system

The 36th president discovered a way to sneak women into the Oval Office without his wife, Lady Bird, finding out, Herman says. After Lady Bird walked in on Johnson having sex in the office with one of his secretaries one day, the president had a buzzer system installed. “The Secret Service was to buzz him when the first lady was on her way so he could pull up his pants before she arrived,” Herman writes.

Johnson was a shameless flirt who also said he “only wanted to hire women with ‘good behinds’ so he could ‘enjoy’ their rear ends as they left his office,” Herman writes. Others who have spoken about Johnson’s White House trysts include former Life magazine reporter Hal Wingo, who says Johnson once told him, “You may see me coming in and out of a few women’s bedrooms while I am in the White House, but just remember, that is none of your business,” as Herman recalls in Sex with Presidents.

So, should voters consider a candidate's sexual history when electing the next leader of the free world? Herman doesn’t think so  — but it sure is fun to read about.  “In our hearts, we’re going to vote for people based on their policies: jobs, taxes, who’s going to create the better future for our children,” she says. “And who are we to judge? Most Americans have done or two things sexually they shouldn’t have, anyway … it’s part of human nature!”