Born January 3, 1879, in Burlington, Vermont, Grace Goodhue would one day become the wife of the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge. She was the only child of Andrew Goodhue and Lemira Barrett. Her father was a church deacon and steamboat inspector, while her mother was a housewife.
Grace’s mother taught her domestic skills expected of any woman of the time, like knitting, cooking, housekeeping, and gardening. She began her formal education at five years old, attending both elementary and middle school in Burlington at local public schools. During her time at Burlington Public Middle School, she showed an interest in music and began taking piano lessons. Grace began attending Burlington High School in 1893, where she enjoyed and showed aptitude in Latin, French, and the sciences.Grace Coolidge was a passionate advocate for education for deaf children, she was the 1st First Lady to have a four-year college degree.Click To TweetAfter high school, Grace went to the University of Vermont. While there, she founded that university’s first chapter of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. She also acted in Shakespearean plays with the school’s Drama Club and was a member of the college Glee Club. Grace was the 1st First Lady to have a four-year college degree.
After graduation, she was inspired by a friend to teach deaf children, and enrolled at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech to study lip-reading; eventually, she became a teacher there, and teaching deaf children was a lifelong passion of hers.
Grace had an active dating life at college, and one relationship, with a man named Frank Joyner, was serious enough that most of her friends and family assumed they would get married. However, Grace broke up with Frank in 1903 when she met a young, up and coming attorney named Calvin Coolidge. They complemented each other perfectly, with Grace being outgoing, vivacious, and charming, while Calvin was introverted and reserved.
They dated for two years. When Calvin proposed marriage, he did not ask, he stated it as a fact, telling her, “I am going to be married to you.” Grace agreed with pleasure, but her mother did not like Calvin and did not think he was good enough for Grace. Grace’s mother did everything she could to postpone or cancel their marriage, and Calvin never got along with his mother-in-law after this difficult beginning. Grace’s mother later insisted that Grace was the one who was primarily responsible for Calvin’s success in politics.
Grace and Calvin married on October 4, 1905, at the home of her parents, honeymooned in Montreal, and set up living together in Northampton, Massachusetts. Calvin’s political career began soon after, with him being elected to the Massachusetts General Court in 1907. He went on to serve in the Massachusetts State Legislature, as the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and as Governor of Massachusetts. He became Vice-President of the United States in 1921. During all this time, Grace kept a low to non-existent public profile, letting her husband take the spotlight.
However, this changed when she became the wife of the US Vice-President. She went from simple housewife to an elite Washington socialite and quickly rose through the ranks of political wives and daughters to become one of the most popular women in the nation’s capital.
When Calvin became President in 1923, Grace did not speak out on social issues as her predecessor, Florence Harding, had done. Instead, she supported popular causes and groups of the time, such as the Red Cross and the Visiting Nurse Association.
Calvin wanted to the social life of his White House to be unpretentious and dignified, and this is how Grace arranged it. She became quite a popular hostess, and “Grace” described her personality as well as her name. She won much public sympathy when her son, Calvin Coolidge, Jr., died at only 16 years old when she and Calvin still occupied the White House. However, unlike other First Ladies who withdrew from public life after personal tragedies, Grace only took a few months off, and then resumed her First Lady duties.
In addition to their son, Calvin, Jr., Grace, and Calvin had another son, John, who survived them.
The highlight of her hosting duties as First Lady came when she and Calvin hosted a party for Charles Lindbergh after his 1927 transatlantic flight. Grace was also the 1st First Lady whose voice was recorded on newsreels; previously, newsreels had been silent.
Calvin and Grace were a particularly devoted couple, though Calvin did not discuss policy with her, as many presidents had done with their wives. Other presidents had relied heavily on the advice and counsel of their wives in developing policy. Grace, on the other hand, did not even know Calvin had decided to not seek re-election until she heard it on the news.
Grace received a gold medal from the National Institute of Social Science, and in 1931, she was voted one of the 12 greatest living women in the United States of America.
After leaving the White House, Grace and Calvin returned to Northampton, where they purchased a large estate called The Beeches, where they could receive more privacy. Calvin died there on January 5, 1933, of a heart attack. Grace continued to live there and resumed her pre-marriage work with deaf children. She also continued volunteering for the Red Cross and participated in civil defense and scrap drives during WWII.
In fact, Grace kept very busy as a widow. She wrote for several magazines, served on the boards of both the Mercersburg Academy and the Clarke School, and joined a local group dedicated to helping Jewish refugees to America during WWII. During the war, she also loaned her house to the United States Naval Reserve Women’s Reserve (also known as WAVES).
Grace continued to be known as someone who had a good sense of fun and a great deal of vivaciousness and energy and also remained committed to her pre-First Lady aversion to publicity. She died July 8, 1957, in Northampton at the age of 78, and was buried next to Calvin and Calvin, Jr. in Plymouth, Vermont.