(Host) As the celebration of the homestead inaugural of Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States, is once again held in Plymouth Notch this weekend, commentator Cyndy Bittinger reflects on the only woman to witness this important transfer of power.
(Bittinger) President Warren Harding had died unexpectedly, and Vice President Calvin Coolidge was to be sworn into office. So early in the morning of August 3, 1923, Grace Goodhue Coolidge went about carefully arranging the details of the oath ceremony in the simple Plymouth farmhouse where her husband had been raised – and where they were visiting his father, John Coolidge.
How did this Burlington, Vermont woman come to be such an important actor on the national scene? She was born in mill-company housing in the Queen city. She graduated from the University of Vermont in 1902 and left Vermont to teach deaf children in Northampton, Massachusetts. There she met a neighbor, Calvin Coolidge, another Vermonter. They married in 1905, and Grace tended their two sons, John and Calvin Jr. while her husband rose through the political ranks in Massachusetts.
After Coolidge became Governor of Massachusetts and achieved national fame in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, his political backers went to the Republican convention of 1920 armed with “Law and Order” books embossed with each delegate’s name to promote his nomination. When the party bosses chose Warren Harding instead to head the ticket, the Coolidge supporters rebelled and insisted on Coolidge as the candidate for Vice President.
The ticket won, but Harding labored under the burdens of the office and let his “Ohio gang” abuse government contracts. First Lady Florence Harding tried to help her husband politically, but was often frustrated and developed serious health problems. Then Harding died.
That news was delivered by telegram to Plymouth in the middle of the night. Grace later said that first she wept – and then she prayed. She thought of Mrs. Harding and wondered how she was bearing up.
In the early morning darkness, Grace set out two oil lamps and the Coolidge family Bible in the parlor. Both boys were away. John was at military camp and Calvin Jr. was harvesting tobacco in Massachusetts. Reporters arrived at the homestead but raced off again after Coolidge gave them a statement to file with their news services. Only one reporter – from the Rutland Herald – remained to witness Calvin Coolidge taking the presidential oath by lamplight from his father, a notary public.
And the only woman present was Grace Goodhue Coolidge – the new First Lady.
This is Cyndy Bittinger, documenting the legacy of Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth.
Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.