|GRACE AND CALVIN COOLIDGE
One of the true pleasures of researching the life of Calvin Coolidge is learning of the character, grace, charm and wit of Grace Goodhue Coolidge. This section will cover aspects of Grace Coolidge, her role as first lady and the relationship with her husband. It is meant only to be supplemental, and is not an attempt to present a full biography of Grace Coolidge or of her relationship with the President. Those interested in a fuller history of Mrs. Coolidge are directed to several excellent biographies on Grace Coolidge: "Grace Coolidge and Her Era" by Ishbel Ross and "Grace Coolidge: An Autobiography" by Lawrence Wilkander and Robert Ferrell. Both books are published by The Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.(Ordering information found on "resources" page)
There can be no doubt that Grace Coolidge ably assisted Calvin Coolidge in being a more effective person, particularly in his presidency. While appearing to be subservient and obedient to Coolidge's wishes, in many ways she was a woman well ahead of her time. While infrequent mention is made of her today, she was a most popular First Lady during her years in the White House, said to be the most popular one since Dolly Madison.
One of Grace's friends, a Mrs. Nickerson, said "when she greeted callers, she was as easy with ambassadors who called, as with a woman urging a charitable cause. She was her usual, friendly, self-poised, unaffected, perfectly natural self. Under any circumstances, she approached people without any frills or affectations -- no gush, no condescension."
There is little mention of Coolidge's having had personal relationships with women outside his family. His shyness was probably a substantial contributing factor. He clearly found a certain comfort in Grace's company when he said that "She recognized the shy nature behind my manner and gave me great reassurance...We thought we were made for each other."
Coolidge's marriage proposal to Grace was slightly unorthodox. He told her "I am going to marry you." They were married in the summer of 1905 in the same parlor of her parents' Burlington, Vermont home where Coolidge told Grace's father that he intended to marry her.
They took a honeymoon trip to Montreal, one of the two times Coolidge was ever outside the country. (During his Presidency, he traveled to Havana for the American International Conference.) He cut the honeymoon short to return to campaign for election to the local School Board, one of the two elections he lost. After the election, a man told him that he didn't vote for him because he didn't have any children. Coolidge replied "Might have given me some time."
After Coolidge became Vice-President, there were many social obligations to be met. Mrs. Coolidge enjoyed such events. Coolidge didn't share her enthusiasm, although she said he approached such duties with willingness. In fact, she said he was becoming quite a "social butterfly". Grace wanted to come early and stay long, but at 10 o'clock Coolidge would say "Grace, we're leaving."
In similar fashion, Mrs. Coolidge stayed late at a tea once. Coolidge telephoned her at the home she was visiting and said "Grace, I've come home. You come home now too."
GRACE ON PRESIDENT HARDING
On Inauguration Day, President Harding was almost late in arriving because of a traffic jam. He told Mrs. Coolidge that he was very annoyed and said he "used language which was not fit for publication." Mrs. Coolidge liked President Harding very much saying "He is a dear man and so human!"
GRACE AS FIRST LADY
Mrs. Coolidge recognized that, along with the President, she was entrusted with serving the needs of the country, a responsibility she took seriously: "There was a sense of detachment. This was I, and yet not I. This was the wife of the President of the United States and she took precedence over me. My personal likes and dislikes must be subordinated to the consideration of those things that were required of her. In like manner, this man at whose side I walked was the President of our great country; his first duty was to its people. It therefore became quite natural to refer to him as 'The President' and to address him as 'Mr. President' in the presence of others."
She also said "I was more proficient in setting up and operating miniature tracks and trains on the dining room floor, than in receiving and entertaining guests in the drawing room...we New England women cling to the old way and being the President's wife isn't going to make me think less about the domestic things I've always loved."
Coolidge commented that he had always been complimented upon his choice of Grace and that having her, as Mistress of the White House, was the most effective way to supervise it.
Grace said of her responsibility: "To me, the House of the Presidents is sacred ground, hallowed by the memories of those men whom our country has chosen for the high office."
Grace met diplomats equally as well as everyday people, always with charm and grace. At one of her garden parties, someone asked a colleague who did not speak English if he had understood what Mrs. Coolidge had said to him. He said "That is not necessary. To look upon her is enough."
The President and Mrs. Coolidge met thousands of people at White House and other public functions. These duties required at equal number of handshakes. Former President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft summed up Grace and the President well in this description: "Grace looked very pretty and was most gracious". "Coolidge was Coolidge. He does the pump handle work without much grace and without a great deal of enthusiasm." People always said Grace Coolidge did the work of two people because the President didn't talk much in public and had few social graces.
Coolidge once shook hands with 1900 people in thirty-four minutes, which he said "was probably my record." (His naval aide Wilson Brown said that he had developing handshaking to a fine technique. When shaking hands, he had a perceptible pull toward Mrs. Coolidge. If the person started to chat, the pull became stronger.) In spite of his speedy handshaking technique and lack of apparent enthusiasm, Coolidge said he did enjoy meeting people: "Instead of a burden, it was a pleasure and a relief to meet people that way, and to listen to their greeting which was often a benediction."
During her time in the White House, Grace walked a lot. She said she refused to be "jailed" in the White House. She walked about five miles a day.
The President expressed a similar view when he said "I suppose that I was once the most powerful man in the world, but great power does not mean much except great limitations. I cannot have the freedom to go and come. I am in the clutches of forces that are greater than I am."
Coolidge was told that Grace was the right kind of wife for him. She added high sociability to a man who clearly had trouble with it. The President's father, John Coolidge, said "She's always been helpful to Cal and kind to us. He was fortunate in getting such a fine girl for a wife."
There were always lots of comments about Coolidge's lack of dinner conversation. Grace went to a tea and a prominent lady gushed that she was going to sit next to the President the following evening. Grace told her "I'm sorry for you. You'll have to do all the talking yourself." Coolidge said Grace was a great help to him and never "rung me in on things I wished to avoid".
Mrs. Coolidge was a graduate of the University of Vermont, far ahead of her time in an era when comparatively few women had college degrees. Coolidge, however, made it clear that he did not think highly of the level of education she had.
Mrs. Coolidge mentioned in one of her accounts that out of nowhere Coolidge asked her "When was Martin Luther born?" She said she didn't have the remotest idea, and he said, "Didn't they teach you anything where you went to school?" (Impliedly, of course, he probably didn't know either, which is why he asked her.) Such incidents might suggest that Coolidge was a cold and insensitive husband, however in spite of his manner on occasion, he loved his wife and from all appearances they had a strong marriage.
Grace Coolidge had many interests: knitting, baseball, books, flowers, listening to the radio and doing crossword puzzles.
Coolidge went to the 1924 World Series with her when the Washington Senators defeated the New York Giants. The score in one of the games was tied 3-3 in the ninth inning. Coolidge got up to leave, but she pulled on his coat and said "Where do you think you're going? You sit down. " That was one game he saw all of. Mrs. Coolidge was recognized as being such a great fan of the game, that baseball later presented her with a lifetime pass to games.
MRS. HARDING'S CONDOLENCE
After the death of Calvin Jr., Grace received a note of condolence from Mrs. Harding saying that "No matter how many loving hands may be stretched out, some paths must be tread alone." Mrs. Harding died at the end of that year.(1924)
GRACE COOLIDGE’S REMEMBRANCE
Grace sent a poem to "Good Housekeeping" Magazine near the fifth anniversary of Calvin Jr.'s death. She hoped it might provide comfort to other mothers who had lost children. The poem was very well received by readers and thousands of reprints of it were requested.
”The Open Door”
You, my son Have shown me God.
Your kiss upon my cheek
Has made me feel the gentle touch
Of Him who leads us on.
The memory of your smile, when young,
Reveals his face As mellowing years come on apace.
And when you went before,
You left the gates of heaven ajar
That I might glimpse,
Approaching from afar,
The glories of His Grace.
Hold, Son, my hand.
Guide me along the path,
That, coming, I may stumble not,
Nor roam, Nor fail to show the wayBr> Which leads us -- Home.
FREE AT LAST
In 1930, Coolidge and Grace met President and Mrs. Hoover at a Boston hotel. Mrs. Coolidge shared her feelings about the visit with the "Robins", a group of ladies whom she had been communicating with, and had been meeting with for years: "It was so interesting to see all the old guard around the President and Mrs. Hoover when we went to call on them at the hotel and then walk out a free man and woman leaving them to their misery, if you see what I mean." Nothing could have evidenced more, the appreciation of the comparatively private life the Coolidges now enjoyed and how little they missed the constant attention paid to the nation's First Couple.
Coolidge was discussing George Washington with a friend, noting how detailed he was, and said "He was the only man in American public life who never made a mistake." The man told Coolidge he had met one of his fellow board members from The New York Life Insurance Company who said Coolidge was always right as well. At that moment, having overheard what was said while entering the room Mrs. Coolidge said with a laugh, "Send him up to talk to me."
DEATHS OF CALVIN AND GRACE COOLIDGE
After the President's death, Grace said to a friend "I am just a lost soul. Nobody is going to believe how much I miss being told what to do. My father always told me what to do. Then Calvin told me what I had to do." Grace Coolidge lived until July 8, 1957. Finding "The Beeches" too large for her needs after the President's death, she had moved to a new home, "Road Forks", not far from their former home at 21 Massasoit St. She made public appearances and was active in community and charitable activities.