A trivia game posed this question, “Who was the first of the First Ladies of the United States to attend college to earn a four-year undergraduate degree?” That answer is Grace Coolidge. In her lifetime, this educated female was often quiet and reserved; thus, she was considered quite mysterious. She was also perceived by the public as glamourous, and her husband spoiled her with gifts of clothing. Despite being well-educated and holding the title as the first of the first ladies to earn a college degree, not much is shared about her today. So, it’s interesting to look…
Born January 3, 1879, in Burlington, Vermont, she was the only child of Andrew Issaclar Goodhue and his wife Lemira Barrett. She spent a good deal of time with adults, enjoying occasional trips to her grandparents’ house where she played with her cousins. Her father became injured while working at the mill in town, so Grace was temporarily sent to live with Mrs. John Lyman Yale and her family and became introduced to children with hearing impairment. Grace received excellent schooling and became a member of the Congregational Church. Her father would become inspector of Boilers of Steam Vessels for Lake Champlain.
For health reasons, Grace took a year off before entering college. Along with some other women, she petitioned Pi Beta Phi, a national fraternity for a charter at the University of Vermont. She graduated in 1902 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in teaching. Grace would appeal to Caroline Yale, of the Yale family and principal of the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, MA, for a teacher trainer class. It is not certain how Calvin Coolidge would meet Grace Goodhue, but they lived across the street from one another. Her mother had objected to the timing of the wedding as her daughter had not yet learned to bake bread. Despite this, the wedding took place at home with only a few relatives in attendance.
Their marriage would be traditional, with Calvin acting as head of the family and pursuing a career in law and politics. Grace spent a good deal of time as a homemaker and raising their sons John and Calvin Jr., the younger of whom was frail and favored by his father. However, her fraternity Pi Beta Phi was also a good use for her energy. The family lived on a budget as politics did not pay well. However, Governor Coolidge’s stance on the Boston Police Strike earned him recognition and he was chosen as Vice President to Harding. Upon their victory, the family moved to Washington D.C. and Grace shifted her attention to the social scene where she presided over “The Ladies of the Senate.” Upon Harding’s passing, Coolidge became President and Grace would assume the role of First Lady. Grace would continue traditions such as garden parties and Easter egg rolling. Her love of animals even brought two racoons to the White House, one which was purportedly spared from being served at the White House Thanksgiving feast.
During her husband’s service as President, Grace fought for furnishings for the White House, and even rescued some antiques with the help of General Grant’s grandson. She would oversee and inspect construction to the White House, and she was proudly presented a portrait from her fraternity where she is wearing a red dress with the President’s dog at her side. And, she experienced tremendous grief, but not without hope, over the loss of their youngest son, which likely caused the President’s depression. Grace also focused on children with disabilities and helped raise money for the Clarke School for the Deaf. She was also known as “The First Lady of Baseball,” and the American League sent her a yearly pass in a gold-trimmed purse. Grace continued her life performing community service and writing articles.
Calvin Coolidge would pass from a coronary thrombosis in 1933 and in the 1950s she would experience heart failure. As a First Lady, she is remembered for her grace and elegance and once had the nickname “Sunshine.” She would respect her time at the White House, proudly serving in her position as the President’s wife and even getting a joint resolution by Congress to authorize acceptance of the gift of furniture for the White House. She continually served the community as well, raising funds for victims of World War II and loaning her house to WAVES as their headquarters in Northampton, and preserving the legacy of her husband. Despite all she did as wife of the 30th President, she was not boastful, and quietly resonated elegance, style, and intelligence as she performed her duties.