When Calvin Coolidge wanted to marry Miss Grace Goodhue, her parents were not happy.
The Coolidge Proposal
Some time after Calvin Coolidge began seeing the pretty Miss Goodhue, he took her to meet his family. They liked her. Everybody did. His grandmother said, “She’s a likely gal, Calvin, you should marry her.” “Think I will,” Coolidge replied.
Sometime afterwards, the prospective bridegroom told the prospective bride’s father that he wanted to marry Grace.
Mr. Goodhue was astounded. “Does Grace know about this?” he asked. Coolidge said simply, “No. But she will.”
The Goodhue Objection:
There was nothing bad about Calvin Coolidge himself-ish. He came from a good family. He had graduated from Amherst College. He was a practicing attorney. Perhaps not an Adonis, but then again… So far, so good.
The Goodhues’ only child, a graduate of the University of Vermont and a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf, was a pretty, personable, outgoing woman with a wall-to-wall smile. She was always popular, and had her pick among all the young men in town. Why would she choose such a silent, pasty fellow? You couldn’t get six words out of him!
The Goodhues dearly loved their daughter and wanted her to be happy, and they could not understand (and never would) how she could be happy with such a cold clam.
Nevertheless, Grace Goodhue and Calvin Coolidge became engaged to be married.
Mrs. Goodhue’s Plan
Elviera Goodhue had a “solution.” Grace knew very little about housewifery, and suggested that her daughter resign her teaching position, move back home for a year, and learn to cook and bake and become a proper New England housewife.
“Why, Mr. Coolidge,” she said, “Grace doesn’t even know how to bake bread.” Coolidge was unmoved, and was said to have replied in his distinctive twang, “I can buy bread. I want Grace.”
But Grace was an obedient young woman and daughter, and she duly moved back home. Her parents were hoping that with time and distance, she might change her mind – or perhaps attract a new beau.
Calvin Coolidge was not pleased. After all, he reasoned, he was thirty-two. Grace was twenty-six. Surely they were both old enough to know their own minds. He visited her regularly. She did not change her mind. Nor did he.
Keeping House Circa 1905
When the Coolidges married, Grace “retired” from teaching. Married women did not work. She was now a housewife, and would become mother of two sons in due time.
The newlyweds moved into half of a two-family house in Northampton, MA, and they would stay there even when they moved to the White House and beyond. They were never more than middle-class. Calvin was a mediocre attorney and public servant: mayor of his small town, moderate state legislator. His leadership was as modest as he was.
Grace Coolidge never had servants, even in a day when they were available and affordable. At most she had an occasional day-girl to help with the heavier work.
But Grace was a warm-hearted mother, neighbor, friend, happy to teach her boys to play baseball on the front lawn. She was equally happy to help at their church functions, and during World War I, like many other women in the country, she joined the Red Cross and became active.
But while she became an avid and competent needle-woman, try as she did, she never did master the kitchen.
Biscuits and Pies
The Goodhues could never understand their daughter’s attraction to the “cold clam,” but Grace would write years later, “He made me laugh.”
It was their shared sense of humor that bound the couple together. His was dry, wry and all the funnier since it was delivered with a devastatingly deadpanned expression. Grace’s humor was teasing and mimicking. It is said she could imitate Coolidge’s New England twang to perfection.
Grace was contented as a New England housewife, but was never more than mediocre in its skills. Coolidge loved his pretty wife dearly, and would never criticize her – at least not overtly. But he could make his point.
Biscuits, of course, are supposed to be light and fluffy and melt-in-your-mouthable. Grace’s left much to be desired. Coolidge made his point by “accidentally” letting one drop – and simultaneously stomped his foot on the floor. Grace was not insulted. It is said that the entire family howled.
Then there was her apple pie. It seems that she was never able to master the art of a light and flaky crust. Hers was definitely in the soggy and chewable department.
The family had had it for supper, but there was still a half-a-pie leftover. When a couple of Grace’s lady-friends stopped in that evening, Coolidge surprised her and asked them if they might like to have some of her delicious apple pie and coffee. The women graciously accepted.
The story goes that it was Coolidge who made the coffee, laid the table and sliced the pie. Then, as the ladies were sampling “Grace’s delicious”, Coolidge twanged with a slight twinkle in his eye, “Don’t you think the road commissioner would be willing to pay my wife something for her recipe for pie crust?”
Point made. No offense taken.
- Anthony, Carl Sferrazza –First Ladies 1789-1961, William Morrow,1990
- Boller, Paul F., Jr. – Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1981
- Wikander, Lawrence & Ferrell, Robert (eds) – Grace Coolidge, An Autobiography, 1992, High Plains