First Lady in a Roaring Decade

President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace Coolidge by Train

Senator Peter Norbeck (left) greets Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge up their arrival in Rapid City in June 1927. (Rapid City Public Library.)

 

By all accounts a dynamic, outgoing, and energetic woman—in many ways the opposite of her husband, “Silent” Cal—Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge was forty-eight years old when she spent the summer of 1927 in the Black Hills. Married for almost twenty-two years upon their arrival in Rapid City, Grace accompanied Calvin as he rose from Massachusetts state legislator to lieutenant governor, governor, vice president, and upon Warren G. Harding’s death in 1923, president of the United States. Grace was known for her interest in supporting and raising funds for schools serving the deaf and disabled, a cause she had become interested in as a child. She had trained as a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Massachusetts after college.

As first lady, Grace did not publicly enter the political fray, likely at the urging of her husband, but her warm demeanor and garrulous sociability was widely regarded as a key—perhaps the key—asset throughout her husband’s political career. Mrs. Coolidge has been widely remembered for her vitality, interest in new technologies and fashions, and willingness to avidly carry out her customary duties as White House hostess. She also oversaw a major White House renovation that began in early 1927.

 

President Calvin Coolidge and Grace Coolidge Examine Fish

President Coolidge shows his wife, Grace, a rainbow trout he caught during their stay at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park. (Rapid City Public Library.)

Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge had two sons, born in September 1906 and April 1908. The elder, John, would accompany his parents to their Summer White House in South Dakota and live another seventy years. The younger son, Calvin Junior, had died suddenly of a blood infection in 1924. For several months thereafter, in the middle of a presidential campaign, Grace and her husband were in mourning. She did, however, make a spectacle of completing her absentee ballot before a group of reporters that October—only the second presidential election in which women were eligible to vote.

Three years later Grace brought the family’s two dogs—Prudence Prim and Rob Roy—as well as her pet raccoon, Rebecca, to the Black Hills. An avid exerciser, she spent the summer hiking near the first family’s residence at the State Game Lodge. The first lady enjoyed the trails around their summer White House and the state legislature renamed a fishing stream “Grace Coolidge Creek” in her honor. She also accompanied the president on his many excursions to events, ceremonies, and speaking engagements throughout the region. She also sang in the choir at the small Hermosa church where she and the president attended the weekly service.

Continuing the pattern that would carry through her career as first lady, however, Grace stayed largely out of political affairs. She ventured into the spotlight only when greeting guests to the State Game Lodge or meeting locals at various events. When her husband made his infamous declaration that he would not run for president in 1928, Grace claimed to have had no prior knowledge of the decision, and stated that she was hiking in a remote part of Custer State Park when the news broke. After Calvin passed away at age sixty in 1933, Grace lived for another twenty years.

First Lady in a Roaring Decade