I just can’t keep up with Fran Becque – she keeps coming up with interesting stuff on Grace Coolidge over at her blog, so I’m very happy to direct y’all over there for her latest.
While I did remark in an earlier post on Grace Goodhue Coolidge being the first “Greek lettered” First Lady, who proudly wore her Pi Beta Phi pin while being painted by Howard Christie Chandler for the official White House portrait, this excellent post on Fran Becque’s fraternity/sorority-themed blog gives a lot more detail and is highly recommended.
Just a quick note to report that Grace Coolidge gets a spot on thedailybeast.com’s scrupulously nonpartisan listing of the 10 best-dressed First Ladies. Or maybe that IS a sly dig at Ronald Reagan’s deficits when they say that “red became a signature color of the Reagan years” ?
Oct. 4 is the wedding date of Calvin Coolidge and Grace Goodhue; this year marks the 105th anniversary of that 1905 event.
The couple was married in Burlington, Vermont, in a modest ceremony that Grace Coolidge’s biographer Ishbel Ross contrasts with the Vermont society wedding of that same day between Ralph Pulitzer and socialite Fredericka Webb. It was a rainy day, but Calvin is quoted as having said, “I don’t care anything about the rain so long as I get the girl.” Local interest in the wedding was concentrated on the bride; no one suspected that the reticent, somewhat tense red-haired man beside her was destined to be president.
After the ceremony, the couple left the house, which had been beautifully decorated in autumnal leaves and seasonal flowers, behind them as they “motored” to their honeymoon destination, Montreal. Famously, the honeymoon, scheduled for two weeks, was cut to one week at the request of the groom. His wife agreed, when she could see that he was anxious to get home, not least because he was getting low in funds after the expenses of the wedding. Later, Grace related that “he made the amusing explanation that he was in a hurry to get back to Northampton in order to show off his prize” when it more truthfully was “his first political campaign which drew him.”
Incidentally, in running for the School Board, Coolidge suffered one of only two defeats he experienced in his political career. When a friend remarked to him that he had voted for his opponent because he felt the school committeemen should have children in the public schools, Coolidge replied: “Might give me time.”
Over at the delightful The Aesthete Cooks blog, I spotted a very nice entry featuring a recipe for Coffee Soufflé submitted by First Lady Grace Coolidge for a 1924 cookbook. The author notes that Grace Coolidge considered herself fairly helpless in the kitchen, which prompts me to add an anecdote told by her biographer Ishbel Ross in Grace Coolidge and her Era:
Although much has been written about the domestic skills of Mrs. Coolidge, her most devastating critic was Calvin. In fact, her pies and biscuits figured among his stock jokes in the early days of their marriage. He was apt to drop one of her biscuits on the floor and stamp his foot to emphasize the thud. His wry comments before guests on pie crust that resembled cement failed to douse his wife’s bright spirits.
“Don’t you think the road commissioner would be willing to pay my wife something for her pie crust recipe?” he asked two of her friends from Clarke School after he had urged her to serve them some of her pie. “Only those who have been placed in a similar position can imagine my feelings as I sat and watched them eat that dreadful pie, my husband also looking on with an inward glee of which I alone was aware,” Mrs. Coolidge later recalled. “At last the final morsel was consumed amid loyal exclamations of approval.”
While the later president comes across as somewhat mean-spirited in this episode, Ross points out that in the Coolidge family, the kidding went both ways, and that no one more readily made fun of Calvin, or went so far in mimicking him, than did his wife.
The other day I received a copy of Grace Coolidge and Her Era, by Ishbel Ross – a used copy from the 2nd printing of this interesting biography published in the year of my birth, 1962. The dust jacket was missing, but I understand that it features the painting by Howard Chandler Christy of the then First Lady in an elegant red gown.
The book contains the story of this portrait:
Christy’s painting of Mrs. Coolidge in a red dress with Rob Roy, her white collie, became a favorite on the walls of the White House. It was the first painting done of the First Lady, and it was the gift of Pi Beta Phi – if you look closely, you can see that the gold arrow pin of the first national college fraternity for women is painted on to her gown.
The president (who also was painted around that time by Christy) apparently showed great interest in the preliminary arrangements and was consulted about Grace’s gown. When Christy suggested the First Lady wear red for the purpose of contrast with the white collie, the president demurred – he preferred a white brocaded satin gown that he particularly liked on his wife. “If she wears red, we’ll have the blue sky and the white dog to make it red, white and blue,” the painter argued.
“She could still wear the white dress and we’d dye the dog,” said Coolidge with a deadpan expression. The painter prevailed, but later also painted her in white satin, perhaps to accede to Calvin Coolidge’s wish.
Grace Goodhue Coolidge actually was the first regularly initiated fraternity member to become First Lady. In 1927 she gave her original fraternity pin to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was attached her gown.
As indicated by the link, you can still find good used copies of this highly recommended book.