I just finished Robert Ferrell’s biography of Grace Coolidge, Grace Coolidge: The People’s Lady in Silent Cal’s White House, which is part of the Modern First Ladies series. (You might remember I reviewed the Mamie Eisenhower biography from this series last fall.)
This is a very well written and researched biography and definitely worth the time to read. My one critical comment is that after reading it, I didn’t feel that I really knew Grace Coolidge. After reading the Mamie biography, I did have that feeling. The chapter on Mrs. Coolidge’s life after the White House was very brief and seemed to skim that period of her life, rather than really delve into it.
I’d like to start by saying that after reading this biography, I can say for certain, I couldn’t have put up with Calvin Coolidge! President Coolidge was not a people person and often had trouble dealing with other people and personalities, while Mrs. Coolidge was very much a social person. She really knew how to work with people and tried to soften her husband’s image to others. This was one of her major contributions to his political career.
I found the Grace’s early years fascinating. Grace Goodhue was a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf before marrying Calvin Coolidge and had a college degree. The author does point out that while she did graduate, she didn’t take college seriously – she simply wasn’t an academic minded person, although she did acceptably. For her college was a social experience. I was glad the author took the time to point this out since we often assume that a woman going to college in this period meant a strong determination for that degree, while for Grace, it was more of a sideline.
One of the low points of Grace’s life, and her marriage, was after her son’s, Calvin, Jr., death. Both Calvin and Grace Coolidge were very religious and turned to religion in their grief, but turned separately, rather than together.
As First Lady, Grace Coolidge made news for her clothes. She was always well dressed in some of the latest fashions. Although her husband was definitely a penny pincher, he actually sometimes encouraged her spending on clothes and took pride in her appearance. Mrs. Coolidge was active as First Lady in social activity, but did little with politics. Her husband was against her involvement in politics and so her most political moves were fundraising, for instance for the Clarke School for the Deaf.
Mrs. Coolidge actually wrote an autobiography, which I hope to eventually read, as did Calvin Coolidge. A good part of the Coolidge papers were purposefully destroyed by Calvin Coolidge, a very private man, and so while there are many of Mrs. Coolidge’s letters from other sources, there are not a lot from their personal collection. My next reading actually is a biography of Calvin Coolidge – I decided to do them together!