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Grace Anna Coolidge (Goodhue)

Grace Coolidge was the wife of Calvin Coolidge and First Lady of the United States from 1923 to 1929. She contributed greatly to her husband's rise to office, balancing his natural shyness with her own outgoing style. She was an exceptionally popular White House hostess.

Background

  • Grace Coolidge, the first graduate of a public university to become a first lady, was born in Burlington, Vermont, in 1879. She was the only child of Andrew Goodhue, a mechanical engineer and steamboat inspector for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company, and Lemira B. Goodhue, a quiet, serious woman.

  • Education

    • Grace graduated from Burlington High School in 1897.

      She became a student at the University of Vermont and lived at home during the years of studies. She was a popular student, known for a high-spirited personality, and was a member of Pi Beta Phi, the first Greek sorority for women.

    Career

    • After she graduated in 1902, Grace convinced her parents to allow her to move to another state to begin a career; this was almost unheard of at the time, even a college graduate, since almost no females lived outside households that were headed by a father or a husband. The sister of one of her Burlington neighbors was head of the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, where the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, had once taught. Grace entered the school’s teacher training program that fall.

    Politics

    She noted in her autobiography that Coolidge never discussed topics of a political nature or even current events with her; and she usually learned of his decisions from newspapers, like everyone else. She believed that he considered her education inadequate.

    When Coolidge became vice president after the victory of Warren G. Harding in the 1920 presidential election, Grace suddenly found herself the subject of a great deal of media attention, which she handled with characteristic style. The Coolidges moved to Washington, while their sons attended Mercersburg Academy, a school about a hundred miles away. The family spent their summer vacations at the Coolidge farmstead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, where Calvin’s father still lived. Grace was there with her husband in August 1923 when Harding became ill on the other side of the country; and a messenger arrived in the middle of the night with the news that he had died. Grace stood near as her husband took the oath of office, administered by his father, a notary public.

    The Harding administration had been rocked by scandals, and as president, Coolidge was determined to restore faith in the Republican leadership. While he went about his official duties, Grace kept White House social events at a subdued level, appropriate for a mourning Period following Harding’s death and the scandals her husband was working to put to rest. Gradually, the

    Coolidges began inviting celebrities to official dinners, beginning a practice that still continues.

    The new first lady was seen as a positive attribute in her husband’s political career. The press loved her sincerity and unaffectedness, as well as her photogenic qualities. Grace participated enthusiastically in her official duties and at such events as opening rest homes for veterans or ceremoniously laying cornerstones of new buildings.

    While she wasn’t a political activist, Grace took advantage of a photographic opportunity staged on the White House lawn in 1925 that showed her filling out her absentee ballot for the upcoming elections. She firmly believed that American women weren’t taking full advantage of their recently won right to vote.

    Views

    Grace met Calvin Coolidge in Northampton. A graduate of Amherst College, he was a young attorney who boarded at the home of Amherst’s steward, Robert Weir. She and Calvin were married at her parents’ home in Burlington on October 4,1905. The couple lived in half of a double house on Massasoit Street in Northampton, where their first son, John, was born in September 1906. A second son, Calvin Jr., arrived two years later.

    Grace was often left alone with her sons in Northampton for long periods of time when her husband’s new political career took him away. Although he was in Boston more than he was at home, he didn’t want to spend the money to relocate his household to the far more expensive city. Grace was an active mother, often playing baseball with her boys.

    In 1924, the younger Coolidge son, Calvin, died tragically during the same summer his father was nominated to run for a full term on the Republican presidential ticket. Not wearing socks with his sneakers during a tennis game, the youngster developed a blister on his foot and it became seriously infected. With an endurance for pain perhaps inherited from his father, Calvin Jr. didn’t say anything about the wound for a few days and the infection went into his bloodstream. By the time blood poisoning was diagnosed, doctors told the Coolidges that the boy’s condition was grave. The most modern medical treatments were attempted, but the infection still lingered, and after two days of severe illness, young Calvin died. His death shocked the country: Telegrams and letters of sympathy poured in to Washington from across the country and around the world.

    The Coolidges buried their sixteen-year-old son in Plymouth Notch, took a small Vermont spruce tree back to Washington, and had it planted on the south grounds of the White House, near the tennis courts, where they placed a plaque commemorating the younger Coolidge s brief life. Grace Coolidge wrote a memorial poem to her son, “The Open Door,” which was published in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1929.

    After Coolidge declined to run for a second full term in 1928, he and Grace went home to Northampton, where they bought an estate called The Beeches. After a few happy years of retirement there, Coolidge died of a heart attack in January 1933, and Grace sold the house soon afterward, saying that it was too large for one person.

    Quotations: “I’m a simple, home-loving woman. I love best of all to gather my little family under my own roof and to stay there. We are just a plain New England family and we like, above all else, to live and do the things that simple New England families do.”

    Personality

    Grace Coolidge seemed to be her husband’s exact opposite both in personality and style. She was outgoing, lively, and spirited, in contrast to the president’s reserved, almost gloomy personality. Nevertheless, the Coolidges enjoyed a solid union because they complemented each other’s characters exceedingly well. “For almost a quarter of a century she was borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces,” Calvin Coolidge said of his wife in his autobiography.

    Grace Coolidge loved baseball almost as much as she loved Calvin, and she appeared at the 1949 World Series, even through it was between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers and her favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, was sitting it out.

    She was an animal lover, and she was especially fond of her pet raccoon, Rebecca.

    She stayed active in many ways over the next two decades, riding in an airplane for the first time and traveling to Europe in 1936. During World War II, she carried food and gifts to the train station for soldiers who were heading overseas. She also loved to listen to Boston Red Sox baseball games on the radio and to spend time with her son, John, his wife Florence, and their two daughters. When Northampton’s Forbes Library created a Calvin Coolidge Memorial Room, Grace was invited to the dedication in September 1956. It would be her last public appearance.

    Quotes from others about the person

    Grace was outgoing and enthusiastic, and Calvin was a man of very few words who often had a gloomy expression on his face. Weir offered the opinion that since Grace had been trained to teach the deaf to hear, possibly she could also teach a mute to speak.

    Interests

    Sport & Clubs: baseball, the Boston Red Sox

    animals

    Connections

    • Married to Calvin Coolidge, had two sons, John and Calvin Jr.
    • 30th President of the United States
    Grace Coolidge
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    Died July 8, 1957
    (aged 78)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1897
      Burlington High School
    • 1898 - 1902
      The University of Vermont
    • 1902
      teacher, the Clarke School for the Deaf
      Northampton, Massachusetts, United States

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