I shocked my “First Ladies” history class years ago at FIU, Elders Institute in response to the question as to my personal favorite First Lady? “Grace Coolidge,” I answered, “wife of Calvin Coolidge. She lit up the room with the sunshine of her personality.” Raised in Vermont, Grace, after graduating from college, attended Clarke Institute and became a teacher to deaf children. She then met another Vermonter, Calvin Coolidge, who was her exact opposite; he was emotionally cold and painfully shy. Grace dedicated herself to helping Calvin overcome his limitations. In 1920, Calvin became Vice President. With Harding’s death in 1923, “Silent Cal” became President. While Calvin was emotionally unexpressive, Grace, with her natural simplicity, warmth and “million dollar smile,” opened her arms, not just to her husband, but to all of America. Grace became the most beloved First Lady of her generation. Her accomplishments and honors as First Lady would fill this article.
Although Grace had a great sense of humor, Calvin enjoyed getting the last word in. The press reported on a trip the Coolidge’s made to a chicken farm. As the farmer was taking the First Lady through the hen house, the rooster mounted the hen. Grace asked, “Does the rooster do that often?” The farmer responded, “Several times a day.” “Tell that to the President,’ said the smiling Grace. The farmer did as he was told. With a straight face, the President asked, “With the same hen?” “No,” said the farmer. Calvin got in the last word. “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”
Tragedy struck in 1924. Their teen age sons, John and Calvin Jr. played tennis at the White House. Calvin Jr. did not disclose a blister on his foot until it became infected. It led to blood poisoning and he soon died. The President literally fell apart. The nation went into mourning. Grace maintained her equanimity in the face of grief. Herbert Hoover said that Grace became “ninety percent of the administration.” I did reveal to my FIU class that of all the First Ladies, Grace reminded me most of my wife.