(Host) This week, commentator Cyndy Bittinger is sampling a collection of the private letters of Grace Goodhue Coolidge. The letters were recently given to the Coolidge Foundation in Plymouth by her family and are being made available to scholars and the public for the first time.
Grace Coolidge was a Burlington native who became First Lady when her husband Calvin Coolidge, a native of Plymouth, became the 30th President of the United States. Today, we hear about the love both Grace and her husband felt for their home state.
(Bittinger) Grace and Calvin Coolidge had a special place in their hearts for Vermont. Calvin’s most famous speech, “Vermont is a state I love” was given from the back of a train in Bennington in 1928. It was at Plymouth that Calvin became the 30th U.S. President, sworn in by his father after the sudden death on the West Coast of President Harding. Grace knew how much her husband loved Plymouth and arranged their first Summer White House there in 1924 after the death of their son Calvin Jr.
In August of 1932, she wrote their son John and his new wife Florence that her husband had said, “I should think the children had better spend their vacation here, this summer…Of course it will be quiet, with no other young people around, but the air is good, the food fair-to-middlin’, sleeping excellent and a welcome as deep and wide as the universe.”
On September 27, 1932, she wrote in a letter to her surviving son John’s mother-in-law, Maude Trumbull, about an impending visit to Plymouth:
“The lean-to, as Mr. Coolidge has called the new wing, in referring to it, is far from complete, as far as furnishings go, but there is everything essential, and I think we can make you comfortable. Mr. Coolidge does things when he gets around to it and I do not make him uncomfortable nor myself unhappy by urging him – As I told John, it is his wing and I am letting him flap it.”
After her husband’s death, Grace was left in charge of the Plymouth homestead. She wrote to her friend and physician, Dr. Boone, from her house in North Hampton on Sept. 7, 1933, “With the Plymouth properties on my hands and this place here, my time is fully occupied and my problems many and varied. However, it is well for me to be busy and to keep the old mind active. I am getting some experience in affairs which I have never known anything about.”
In October, 1933, she wrote her son John about Aurora Pierce, their housekeeper in Plymouth, “I sent Aurora her quarterly fifty dollars.” She continued, “I expect to hear from her any day asking where the wood is coming from for the winter.” Aurora had been Calvin’s father’s housekeeper for 40 years. She was also the one who saved many artifacts in the house. She was so practical she was planning to use them up some day.
On August 27, 1953, Grace wrote her son John about her husband’s burial arrangements in the town cemetery: “Father ordered his stone and Calvin’s at the time of your brother’s death and had a blank place left for the date of his own death. He also had a piece of matching granite reserved for my grave.”
Since we are about to commemorate the birthday of Calvin Coolidge this July 4th at Plymouth with a graveside ceremony including a wreath sent from the White House to the Vermont National Guard, this is an interesting comment. Many have noted the simplicity of the gravestones. Calvin, the president, chose them.
This is Cyndy Bittinger documenting the Coolidge legacy in Plymouth Notch.
Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of The Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She spoke from our studio in Norwich. Thursday, we’ll hear about Grace Coolidge’s passion for baseball.