Grace Coolidge (1879-1957) was an American first lady (1923-29) and the wife of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States. A former teacher at a Massachusetts school for the deaf, she used her platform as first lady to champion education and child welfare issues. Although Coolidge rarely consulted his wife on political matters, the two shared a close relationship, and her outgoing nature helped soften her husband’s stern, reserved image. The sudden death of the Coolidges’ teenaged son during the Coolidge presidency devastated the family, but Grace quickly resumed her public role, earning the respect and admiration of the American people.
Born in Burlington, Vermont, Grace Anna Goodhue was the only child of Lemira Barrett and Andrew Issachar Goodhue, a mechanical engineer. Just 4 years old when her father was injured in a wood-milling accident, Grace was sent to live with the neighboring Yale family, and she was heavily influenced by their involvement in the education of deaf children. After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1902, Grace moved on to a training program at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, an institution that emphasized lip-reading in place of sign language.
Grace was in her second year at the Clarke program when she met Calvin Coolidge, a lawyer serving on the Northampton city council. Their pairing seemed an odd one, with the quiet, austere Coolidge showing little interest in his extroverted girlfriend’s love of dancing and theater. Further complicating matters was Mrs. Goodhue’s dislike of her would-be son-in-law. Despite the obstacles, the young couple’s romance blossomed over shared values of hard work, faith and family. Following an appropriately stern proposal from Coolidge, in which he declared, “I am going to be married to you,” they held their wedding at the Goodhue home on October 4, 1905.
The Coolidges spent much of their first 15 years of marriage apart as the future president pursued his political career. After earning a spot on the Massachusetts state legislature in 1906, Coolidge lived in Boston during the week and traveled home to be with his family on weekends. It was a trend he continued as a state senator, lieutenant governor and governor, interrupted by his stint as mayor of Northampton from 1910-11. Grace focused on raising their two boys and volunteering for church and college organizations during those years, rejoining her husband for good after he was elected U.S. vice president in 1920.
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Coming on the heels of the controversial tenures of Edith Wilson and Florence Harding, Grace restored some luster to the role of first lady. Stylish and sporty, she displayed her love for animals and eagerly participated in photo ops and ceremonial events. While she remained mum on most political and social issues out of deference to her husband’s wishes, Grace performed substantive work on behalf of the Red Cross and the Clarke School of the Deaf. She also took an interest in the history of the White House, acquiring old furnishings and directing renovations of the stately mansion.
Grace remained a popular figure after leaving the White House in 1929, earning a place on the “twelve greatest living women” list compiled by Good Housekeeping in 1931. A widow by 1933, she indulged in the opportunities to travel to Europe and ride in an airplane, an activity her husband once deemed improper for a first lady. Grace also continued her longtime association with the Clarke School and participated in several volunteer organizations during World War II. Enduring almost a full quarter-century following Coolidge’s death, she passed away from heart disease at age 78.