Grace Coolidge: love of baseball

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(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 Grace Coolidge’s passion for baseball.

(Bittinger) First Lady Grace Coolidge was the “greatest White House baseball enthusiast of all time”. She was a fixture at Opening Days, the World Series, and ordinary games at Fenway. She told her friends, “Not one of you cares a hoot about baseball but to me it is my very life.”

Her son John always said that she developed this passion after entering the White House. Washington Senator baseball player Bucky Harris recalled, “all the Washington players knew her and spoke to her. She was the most rabid baseball fan I ever knew in the White House.”

During those years she even influenced her husband, the President, to stay for important games. When the Senators tied the Giants in the middle of the 1924 World Series, Calvin stood up to leave. Grace sputtered, “Where do you think you’re going? You sit down.” And he did.

When the First Lady could not attend a game, she listened to the play-by-play on radio. Her son recalled, “She liked to visualize it…she liked to keep busy, she liked to knit during those radio broadcasts.” She didn’t watch television when that was available. She believed that handwork justified the time she spent listening to the games.

Her passion was recognized by the American League when their president sent her handbags with season passes each year.

September 30, 1950, Grace Coolidge wrote Ivah Gale, her friend in Strafford, VT:

“Florie and I have been busy forenoons getting together a few duds to wear to the ball games. We bought some things in Boston and went to Springfield for dresses and hats.

“Afternoons we glue our ears to the radio listening to the broadcasts of these last exciting games. We get so tense that we practically fold up when they are over.

“I succeeded in getting reservations in Camden, New Jersey which is just across the river from Philadelphia. The Phillies could lose out in the race for the pennant. If they did it would be the Dodgers who won it.

“The race in the American League is between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. Today, tomorrow and Sunday will doubtless settle the matter but in case of a tie in either League there would be a play off Monday. In any case we shall be starting at the crack of dawn Tuesday morning. Your Boston Paper will tell you what happens.”

She and Rex Sox manager Joe Cronin arranged a day for “deaf children” to attend a Boston game. This combined two of her interests, baseball and finding opportunities for children with disabilities.

Grace Coolidge followed baseball into her own late innings. Her obituary in the Boston Globe, July 9, 1957 headlined her with the recognition, “Long Active Red Sox Fan.”

I often think she thought of life as a game. Each day was filled with opportunities and she would carry on whatever the score.

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. On Friday, we’ll hear about Grace Coolidge’s plans for the 4th of July and her deep love of family.

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