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.
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.