Skip to main content

tv   First Ladies Influence Image  CSPAN  December 20, 2013 9:00pm-10:31pm EST

9:00 pm
>> tonight on c-span, and encore presentation of our series on first ladies continues with a look at the life and times of grace coolidge. followed by a press secretary --. >> grace coolidge was enormously popular as first lady and influenced the tastes of american women by becoming a style icon. married to a man known as silent cal, she never spoke to the press, but she did use her office to bring attention to issues she cared about. good evening and welcome to the c-span series "first ladies: influence and image." tonight we will be telling you the story of first lady grace coolidge. she came into office with her husband the president in 1923 after the sudden death of president harding.
9:01 pm
here to set the stage for us is amity shlaes, a coolidge biographer, syndicated columnist, and author of other books on that period. welcome to the program. tell us about the arrival of calvin coolidge into the white house. how prepared was he for the job? >> quite prepared, because he had been a politician all his life. president coolidge is one of those men who started small on the city council as city solicitor in massachusetts, and went all the way up the ladder in the state of massachusetts, and then to vice president. one can never be prepared for a shock like the death of a president, but he was quite prepared professionally. >> grace coolidge was at his side all along that way in public life. how ready was she for the white house? >> she didn't think she was. she wrote to her sorority sisters and said pray for me,
9:02 pm
friends. she had been a politician's wife and she had quite a realistic view of politics and that particular job. she called this kind of marriage a double harness. that is not a phrase we would use now about marriage in a positive way, but she pulled her load along with the president when they were little politicians. even when they were courting, they would think about sitting in the governor's chair. it was clear even when they were courting, that calvin, her future husband, was ambitious in politics. >> the 1920s were a time of enormous change for this country societally. just a couple of things that we pulled out as an example, 1925, the first woman governor in the country was elected in wyoming. in 1926, the national broadcasting company was founded. the first talking movie came out in 1927, "the jazz singer." in 1928, amelia earhart made her
9:03 pm
famous flight across the atlantic ocean. what kind of country did calvin coolidge inherit? >> he inherited a country in rough water. interesting, but rough water. when we came out of world war i, that was 1918. we owed quite a bit of money. we had far more debt. taxes were very high. there were revolutions overseas, and people wondered if there would be revolutions here, if the workers would take over the streets as they had done in europe. when we look at what happened in world war i, some of us have forgotten this. it was quite progressive and interesting and unexpected. for example, the government nationalized our big industry, the railroad, and then de- nationalized it. the stock market was shut down. no one knew how we would come out of it.
9:04 pm
then there was inflation no one acknowledged, so public-sector workers were very angry, and justifiably so. that was a factor as well. plus, one third of the returning vets, and remember there was general conscription in world war i, had some form of disability, and we had no penicillin. that is a lot, right? >> so how did president harding use his vice president? in other words, what was the relationship like between the first and second couple? >> you want to separate out the first and second ladies and the couples. i think the couples got along quite well. the famous thing harding did was invite his vice president, calvin coolidge, to sit in on the cabinet. that was a form of welcome. and very useful for coolidge. he never did hear all the dirty
9:05 pm
details of the harding administration, but he did hear some. he got to know the senate, which he recalled as quite an experience. between the ladies, it was a little bit rougher. mrs. harding was much older. she was a bit envious of young grace coolidge who had a beautiful complexion. that was much treasured in that time. she still had the bloom of youth upon her, and mrs. harding defined one color as her own, a certain blue called harding blue. every color looks good on grace. she could be snippy with grace. we have some letters that suggest she was thinking about the next election, and maybe president coolidge would not be the candidate the next time. when the issue came up that maybe the coolidges should have
9:06 pm
a vice presidential house, there was none, mrs. harding said she did not think so, that the willard hotel was just fine for the coolidges. >> they were also very different than just what we have learned about the two women. last week with florence harding, we learned she had a bold personality. there were issues that she cared about. she encouraged her husband into politics. we seem to have quite the opposite in the relationship between the coolidges. can you talk the differences in how the women approached public life and their temperaments? >> grace's biographer said the harding marriage was more like a business, and they had a deal. warren got to do this and mrs. harding got to do that. it was an older marriage, as well. in the coolidge case, i would not say that mrs. coolidge was
9:07 pm
always so deferential, it was just that she was deferential in public. in private, maybe there were some fireworks, but in public, she didn't talk about politics. her husband didn't want her to talk about politics. he kept her in quite a prescribed area. one time when mrs. coolidge tried on a riding habit, he didn't want her to do that. he said i advise you not to try anything new while we are in the presidency. in some ways she was a very old- fashioned wife but it's complicated. >> we will visit a number of sites associated with the coolidges, and the first is vermont, which is the birthplace of calvin coolidge. there's a little town called plymouth notch. we will learn what happened there on the night he took office. what is plymouth notch like? >> i'm just newly the chairman of the board of our foundation there, and it is beautiful.
9:08 pm
the calvin coolidge memorial foundation, want to invite all americans to come to visit this place. it is one of the most beautiful villages in the world. you can see coolidge's birthplace. he was not born over the store like margaret thatcher, but he was born behind it. you get a feel for how beautiful and hard the life was for people in a town like that. >> you are seeing some scenes of plymouth notch, vermont. we will talk about the dramatic night he got the news he was about to become president of the united states. one of the things it has been very special about this series is learning from your questions. we encourage them three different ways. you can call us. the phone numbers will be on the screen throughout the program.
9:09 pm
you can also tweet us. you can also join the conversation on our facebook page on c-span. you can find a beautiful photograph of the coolidge administration. there is already a conversation under way. now to plymouth notch, vermont, and the night that calvin coolidge and grace coolidge learned they are coming to the white house. >> plymouth notch is the birthplace and boyhood home of calvin coolidge. he was born in a little house attached to the back of the store that his father operated. when he was four, he moved across the road to the building we now know as the coolidge homestead. this was an old-fashioned town for most americans in the sophisticated roaring 20's. grace spent some of the time just walking around, that was one of her great passions. she loved to walk, so she would go down to the cemetery,
9:10 pm
especially after her son, calvin jr. died. she did a lot of knitting and other types of handwork while she was here, just enjoying the country air. she grew up in the biggest town in vermont. when she was growing up her house had electricity and plumbing. when she came here, this was very much a country home still, so there was no electricity or plumbing in a house where she stayed with her husband. this is the kitchen of the coolidge homestead. this is where they would have had breakfast and lunch and suppers, too. it is very simple. in here there was one running faucet in the kitchen. that was the only plumbing in the entire house. so this was quite a contrast to
9:11 pm
what grace had been experiencing not only as a child growing up in burlington, which was sophisticated at the time, as well as in the white house when she had all the modern luxuries. this is a two-hole privy and it was the only sanitary facility in the house. it was very much a throwback to the previous century. this is not what she was used to, but hearing all reports about grace, she probably took this in good stride and regarded this as just part of her experience with her husband. the furniture in here is the bedroom set that grace and calvin used when they were here at the coolidge homestead here in plymouth notch, vermont. you can see it is a very simple set of furniture, very typical of the 1870's or so. it is country-style. the rooms were small in this house, not the spacious rooms they were accustomed to at the
9:12 pm
white house, certainly. she was also present in 1923 when word came that harding had died. she was among the select group in the family sitting room that was witness to the swearing-in. this is the sitting room of the coolidge homestead. we now know it as the oath of office room. this is where they gathered when coolidge was administered the oath of office. all the furnishings in here are original. the original lamp that the scene, the pen that was used to sign the documents, and the bible that was here, but not officially used in the swearing- in because that was not required by vermont state law. grace would have stood right about where i am now. there is a famous painting of the homestead inaugural, and it shows the group gathered around, and she is right next to calvin's side.
9:13 pm
>> i want to introduce you to our second guest at the table, cyndy bittinger, who knows plymouth notch very well. former director of the calvin coolidge memorial foundation there, and as we learned earlier, a biographer of grace coolidge. her book is called, "sudden star." thanks for being with us. set the tone of her personality and what she brought to the job in 1923. >> it was sudden, but she had been second for a little while. she was new to washington. she had not had a major role when her husband was governor of massachusetts. she was very much in the background. as the wife of the vice president, they were invited out quite a bit to dinner. she got to know the personages in washington, d.c., so that was very good. they would go out a lot and they were staying at the hotel
9:14 pm
willard, so it was obvious that they would need to go out to dinner quite a bit. she set the tone in that she was very joyous, very vivacious. some people said she was the fun one, she was the front door greeter, whereas her husband was the thoughtful one behind her. so it is an interesting dynamic. we often don't see that with first ladies and presidents. >> everything i have been reading about calvin coolidge over the years, he is not just the thoughtful one. he earns his moniker, silent cal. he seems to be an anti- politician in a lot of ways. what was it about this man that brought him to politics? his personality does not seem so suited for it. >> the principles, but also the politics. he was not a glad hander in that way, but he did shake a lot of hands. one reason he was able to climb
9:15 pm
up in massachusetts was he went to the constituencies. very famous stories about what he would say if someone asked for something, he would say well, maybe. that meant you would get it. more than he under-promised and over-delivered, that is a political tactic. it makes you trust the politician and therefore, also government. so he was a principled and thoughtful politician. more modern than we like to pretend now. >> david welch asked a series of questions on facebook. what aspect of her personality or experience helped mrs. coolidge to be such an effective counterbalance for her husband and do you think he could have had the political career he had without her? >> that is interesting because when he was vice president, she thought she could get back to northampton and her boys quite a bit. he said no, i need you here to help me navigate these political
9:16 pm
and social waters. so yes, i think she was key in giving him social stability and reaching out to others. she remembered people's names and faces, so she could be very engaging with people, and he could sit back and think, as i said before, and also, they both had a great sense of humor. they had all these jokes with each other, and of course, he played a few jokes on some of the people at the white house as well. >> so as they were coming into office, as warren harding died, there are a number of scandals beginning to come to light. how did calvin coolidge handle these scandals? >> this was one of the tests because it was his own party, and what he did was appoint a bipartisan group, an investigative group, and he stood back from it.
9:17 pm
when he came in as president, nowadays one might say make a clean sweep. he didn't do that because the continuity was important to him. continuity was a big part of harding-coolidge policy. don't change a lot, reduce uncertainty. he kept most of them on until it became very clear that there was too much trouble. all very proper, all very clear. and he had the blessing of not knowing much about it, and people could see that he hadn't really known much as vice president, although he had suspected. the one thing he resented about warren harding was that harding might be sullying the presidency. >> is it true that grace coolidge went to listen to some of the senate hearings on the scandals in the administration? >> i'm not sure about scandals, but i think she did go from time to time to congress, and she did
9:18 pm
listen in on what was going on. but she kept very much in the background. she was more in the tradition of first ladies to have a happy home life, take care of her children, greet the public, but not meddle in public policy. >> we are going to go back in time now and learn a little bit about how they met and how the political partnership, the double harness, how that all got started. here is a bit of a story about how the coolidges met. >> this is the clarke school for the deaf where calvin and grace met for the first time. she was a teacher living in a dormitory. he was a tenet in a boarding house on the property. she lived up here in the second floor of this building in the dormitory. we are standing in a courtyard area. there would have been a flower garden and roses that grace would have tended to in her free time.
9:19 pm
the building right beside us is where calvin coolidge lived as a boarder while working as a lawyer. his room is in the back of the building. he would have stood there watching grace in the flower garden. she caught a glimpse of him standing there in his undershirt, and he would watch her tend the rose garden. we are now in grace's bedroom in her clarke school dormitory building. this window here is where grace would have looked out and seen calvin across the courtyard at the next building. she would have put a candle in this window to signify to calvin that the parlor room below was available for them to meet up in. we are now in the parlor room in the dormitory building that grace lived in. this is where they would meet up and be able to sit and talk and have some time together.
9:20 pm
they still had to abide by the rules of the school and needed to meet somewhere that they were supervised and chaperoned while they were on campus. here they would sit and talk and get to know each other. >> we learned about their northampton meeting. what about them attracted them to each other? >> both of them coming from vermont attracted them, but yet she is the urban one. she is from burlington, vermont. he is from little, rural plymouth, so they were quite different in that respect. but she found him engaging and thoughtful, and he found her beautiful, but he didn't quite know how to romance her. so he asked one of his friends, who happened to be the shoemaker in town, what to say to grace. the shoemaker said just compliment her. tell her her dresses are beautiful. do that kind of thing. grace actually saved the letters that calvin wrote to her.
9:21 pm
even though they were neighbors, he wrote her letters, and they were very affectionate letters between them. >> how long did they court before they were married? >> they met in 1903 and married in october of 1905. >> she was an only child and i have read that her mother was not so happy about the relationship. >> lemira adored her only child and thought that after grace had graduated from the university of vermont, she would stay in the burlington area. but grace had a mind of her own and said i would like to teach at the clarke school for the deaf. so grace said, i'm moving to northampton. lemira said that is the home of smith college. i guess most of the men are married, so it will be all right. lemira could still look for a husband for grace. that was sort of her idea, grace
9:22 pm
with a mind of her own finds calvin, calvin finds grace, and the rest is history. on the wedding day, lemira has a headache and did not feel well. >> she got married at her parents' home. >> and a bit earlier than her mother would have liked. and with some trepidation, writing to her friend that she was going off into this adventure, but they were quite determined. this was a modern thing, they chose one another. she had been to college, she had been to coed college. she had a trade. she taught the deaf. a very modern marriage compared to many of the preceding presidencies. >> jennifer on facebook, i am interested with her work on the disabled, one of the first to do so. was she involved with gallaudet university when she was in washington, d.c.?
9:23 pm
>> no, because she believed in lip reading, and she had been trained to do that, not sign language. it is a very different art and i would say a very difficult one. grace took on quite a challenge. >> our first caller of the evening, this is john, watching us in seattle. you are on the air. >> i think you just answered my question. did grace know asl? it looks like you might have answered the question for me. >> how much of a controversy were the two approaches of teaching the deaf? >> i don't think it was that much of a controversy. it was different concepts. the feeling is that you would fit in society better if you did lip reading. sign language would not advance you in terms of your career. i think we feel differently about that now, but back then, there was a real drive to fit in
9:24 pm
and participate in society. >> next is jim from springfield, illinois. >> there was a famous anecdote, and by the way, i have talked to jim cook, he has a one-man show called "more than two words." anyway, there was a story about when they were in the white house, when grace was ill one sunday, and calvin went to church alone. when he returned, grace asked him what had been the subject of the sermon, and he replied, "sin." grace said well, what did the
9:25 pm
preacher have to say about it? and calvin is alleged to have replied "he was against it." are you familiar with that or any of the other anecdotes about their relationship in the white house? >> there seem to be all kinds of favorite stories about the man of few words. do you have a favorite one yourself? >> being against sin, that is a very good one. that's a kind of new englandism. if you have lived in new england, sin, he was agin' it. when coolidge said humor, the cadence, the way he said it, was very much of his region. jim cook, the coolidge impersonator, captures this and if you were on this show, he would take a full minute to say the word "cow." the other story to which the caller referred, coolidge goes
9:26 pm
to a dinner party and a lady says, "mr. coolidge, i made a bet i could get you to say more than two words tonight." and he said, "you lose." there is a little pause after and you laugh. that's a boarding house humor. >> what are some of the other things we should know about the early years of the relationship before they come to the white house that are key? >> building on some of the stories, when they get married, calvin delivers to grace 52 pairs of socks to be darned. grace says, "did you marry me to darn socks?" he said "no, but it comes in pretty handy." she started doing it, it was ok. so they did kid each other quite a bit. i think she adjusted to some of his personality. i think he was a little tough when he was writing speeches. she said she was really his safety valve.
9:27 pm
she would listen to him and be positive when he was doing something like that. >> also some key roles before they came to the white house. we talked about their vice presidential years. what other roles were formative in them establishing the people they would become as first couple? >> when he was governor, he came into a difficult situation, the turmoil we described before. right in the middle of it, there was the boston police union striking, just before his election. many of the policemen were his own constituents. there were whole dissertations written about how good coolidge was with immigrants, and of course the boston policemen were irish. there was anarchy in boston, and coolidge fired the policemen, very dramatic moment. incredible tension for him. his political career, some of us
9:28 pm
are not sure he did the right thing. grace is in the background at home in northampton. that was their relationship in massachusetts. back and forth on the train, and at the middle of the strike, he went home. i read it was his son's birthday right in the middle there, but that was to take the hard decisions. another place he went was to the little cemetery to see his ancestors who had come over much earlier in massachusetts. so his family was important to him, and when you hear grace say the phrase safety valve, that is a little bit ominous. it sounds a little bit like anger and unmodern. but she was that and she was content with it. >> next is sean, watching us in louisville, kentucky. >> i just want to say how much i appreciate this series.
9:29 pm
i want to see if your guest would comment on the death of the coolidges' son and how it affected mrs. coolidge? >> we will talk about the death of her son because it was so important to the parents and to his election in its own right. we will catch up with that story later on. you asked about the first lady's portrait. we will show that to you. when you have the opportunity to see the first lady's portrait, it is rather arresting in the red dress. can you talk a little bit about that portrait, how it was done and how well it epitomizes her? >> howard chandler christy is the portrait painter, and he was having grace pose.
9:30 pm
he said i really like this, because the contrast between the red dress and the white dog. >> calvin came by and said i like grace much better in her white dress. i don't agree, i think we should just have her wear her white dress and dye the dog red. the painting is important because the pi beta phis gave this to the white house. they came 1300 strong. it was the biggest gathering of women at the white house up until that time. they were her fraternity. they call them fraternities in those days. she was a fraternity sister. now we would say she was a sorority sister. she had started the fraternity at the university of vermont. she always stayed interested and involved and was appointed to higher and higher offices there, and had to recede once they reached national office, but she always loved her sisters, and in 1915, she started round robin
9:31 pm
letters with her sisters. that means writing letters to them and they write letters to her, and passing these around. so they were very important for the historians, because we have those letters to read. >> we will learn more about grace coolidge's style in this next video. >> there are number of items that don't come out very often because of their fragility and sensitivity to light and so forth. we have these in our permanent storage area here. she was really quite a fashion plate of the 1920's and that was largely because of him. that was his one fiscal weakness, was to keep her in beautiful clothing. much of the jewelry is more of the costume-style, but there are a few fancier pieces i like to show. this is a beautiful jade pendant that includes a clock and is
9:32 pm
surrounded by sapphires and diamonds. of course, this would fit in very nicely with the 1920's interest in the oriental style. there is a small brooch that was given to her and there are newspaper reports of her wearing this piece. it is the eagle of the united states with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. a wonderful little art deco traveling clock. among the several fans that we have in the collection is this one here which she received from the president of cuba when they went to that country. cuba was the only other country that calvin and grace visited
9:33 pm
during the white house years. this is a particularly fine fan, as you can see, with the mother- of-pearl and gold inlay and the hand-painted screen. one of the gowns in the collection is so heavily beaded that we can never display it in the upright position. whenever we have it out in the display case, it is flat. you can see that it is almost entirely beads and sequins. quite heavy, actually. she had a great impact on the style of the 1920's. this was not the flapper look, by any means, but the gowns very much have the ragged hemlines that was so popular during the 1920's, the heavily beaded features, very typical.
9:34 pm
you can only imagine what this would have looked like as she came down the stairs in the white house. >> patricia on facebook picks up on this. is it true that president coolidge was very frugal except when it came to his wife's clothing? when did that whole dynamic first start in their relationship? >> i think he was interested in clothing for both of them right from the beginning. he even wrote his father to get funding for their clothes because he wanted to look good. this was part of their image as a couple. i think it is fascinating. we have not mentioned frank waterman sterns yet, who owned the sterns department store in boston. i have a feeling that frank sterns was able to maybe get some discounts on some of that clothing so that grace could wear it. that could have been part of it. but calvin would go window
9:35 pm
shopping, which is so interesting, as a president. he would buy a hat and bring it back for grace to wear. so he was very interested in what she wore. >> if she didn't like it, she didn't always say. she saw how important it was for him, but she certainly enjoyed the clothing, and that was something they could do together. she enjoyed how lavishly he attended to her. this was one of the happy parts of their marriage. and she was so beautiful, that is what we forget, how beautiful she was. she became a great and important symbol for her joy, her beauty, all of that. >> we have had first lady's earlier in history who set fashion standards, but this was the time of a great rise in advertising. how good was this for business? >> i'm sure it was very good to have a first lady like this.
9:36 pm
as we mentioned before, she didn't speak much in public, so everyone loved her. she never said anything you wouldn't like, because she didn't speak very much. >> like her predecessors, she was the master of the photo op. >> she absolutely was. he played the silent one, and she played the big volume -- some of this is theater. in marriage, we trade off roles, don't we? they had their act down, we could say. >> as a style and fashion icon, she was honored by the french fashion industry for the style she set in the united states. someone asked whether or not she could be considered a woman of the jazz age. >> i think she might have liked it. she wanted to dance. she took dancing lessons in washington. coolidge would not have liked
9:37 pm
that. he did not want her to have short skirts. he did not like her to wear pants. grace did not wear pants until after calvin passed away. and hair bobbing, he did not really like the idea of bobbing hair. she didn't bob her hair until after the presidency. >> she did have music, though, wonderful music at the white house, but it wasn't jazz. it was more traditional. she loved to showcase people at the white house who were very talented, but it wasn't jazz. that was going a little too far. we are in this transition time period, and some people feel this couple was quite traditional as the nation was becoming very wild in some ways. remember, they believed in prohibition, too.
9:38 pm
>> she was among the first of first ladies to pursue a study of her predecessors. we have some quotes from them that look at their approach to this role of first lady. first is grace coolidge herself, and this is a pretty famous one. she thought about herself as first lady and she wrote or said, "this was i, and yet not i, this was the wife of the president of the united states and she took residence over me, my personal likes and dislikes must be subordinated to the consideration of those things which were required of her." here is calvin coolidge about the role. "the public little understands the very exacting duties that she must perform, and the restrictive life that she must lead." i would like to have you both comment more about this studied
9:39 pm
approach to the role of first lady. >> remember how many hands they had to shake because people came through by the thousands. when he did her a favor, he would shake 3000 hands so that she didn't have to. more often, she had to be there, or she had to entertain. just the very physical obligations were hard to endure. at a point, she did become ill, later in the presidency. you could see how much they had to do, just in terms of pure reception. the idea of the white house as a democratic place. certainly the hardings had set that precedent. >> as we all know, you are the head of state. we don't have royalty here. and they are somewhat our royalty. that is what you're getting at a little bit with all this adulation by the public. when they would travel, people swarmed them, so to speak.
9:40 pm
she brought a little more discipline into the role of first lady. she had two secretaries instead of one. florence harding let people come any old time to the white house. grace said no, i think you should meet me at noon on the steps, or a 3:00 reception. she was a little more organized about these things. people forget that they had the mayflower yacht. that was their camp david. this was a place they could go and be themselves. the military ran it, and the public really didn't know a lot about what was going on there. it was a time-out for them a little bit. >> when they escaped, did they go to northampton or back to plymouth notch? >> it was often no escape because of the crowds. plymouth notch, people camped out, shopped, the neighbor created a tea house. coolidge was not sure people should exploit the presidency in
9:41 pm
that way, but he wanted his neighbors to do well. they began to go on summer retreats. they went to the adirondacks or they went to south dakota or they went to wisconsin where they could have a distance from the rest. this was the president of saving and economy. if he lived too opulently, what about that? one of the interesting things at plymouth notch that you could find is the tension over the spending on food in the coolidge white house. there was a housekeeper, she spent too much. coolidge didn't like the way she spent. she went to the specialty stores. he thought she should go to the piggly wiggly and save. soon she was gone and they brought in a new england lady, ms. riley.
9:42 pm
ms. riley kept a record of every penny that was spent, and indeed, she spent less. grace had to be the wife in all this, had to appear to save with all these social demands. what tension that must have caused for her. >> i think it was good that they did have to pay for everybody's food, but they had a diplomatic budget. they had an entertaining budget. some historians said they entertained more than many presidential couples because they had a separate budget. remember, this is a very middle- class couple coming into the presidency. they don't have their own wealth as we have seen with others. >> what was her religion and was that an important part of her public life? >> it was very important. she was raised as a methodist in burlington, vermont. she moved over to the congregational church.
9:43 pm
her family followed her to the church. she felt and said in her memoirs that she was in a church from the time she was little, and also i feel her faith was very much part of her character and got her through a lot of tough parts of life. >> phil is in california and up next. >> i am a big fan. i am really enjoying this. just a comment and maybe a question about mrs. coolidge. i always wondered if sinclair lewis based his book "babbitt" on calvin coolidge's persona. people look at him as a hardly speaking, myopic, very conservative viewpoint of life or even social reform and things
9:44 pm
like that, and the butt of jokes in vaudeville at that time. and dorothy parker saying when mr. coolidge passed away, how could they tell? did that persona or that idea of what calvin coolidge would look like to the general public permeate into mrs. coolidge's consciousness, the jokes and everything else that were made of her husband at the time? or was she screened away from that? >> nobody could be totally screened away from that. she handled it wonderfully. you might imagine sinclair lewis being the colbert or something to them. they handled it very well most of the time. coolidge did not really like sinclair lewis picking on him so much, and in one column he wrote subsequent to the presidency, you could see him complaining about sinclair lewis.
9:45 pm
i think grace just looked away. she just looked past it. she wasn't so worried about what people said about her husband most of the time. >> people keep asking questions, in many of the photographs we've seen her with dogs, including her official portrait. tell us about the coolidge animals at the white house including the chow dog. >> there was blackberry and there was terrible tim. they just loved their animals. i brought with me the list that grace typed of her animals that she had, and the names and nicknames and who they were. she loved her animals, but i think the best story is rebecca the raccoon.
9:46 pm
rebecca was sent to the coolidges for thanksgiving dinner. both of them being animal lovers, they were outraged at this and decided to raise rebecca at the white house. this is the only time i read that the staff was not terribly happy because rebecca was sitting in the bath of the first lady's room, throwing the soap and climbing the curtains. she even sent rebecca out to the black hills to play with her. rebecca got rambunctious and was a bit too much. even though grace designed a house for rebecca on the grounds, they eventually were taken to the zoo. >> how did she square the furs that we see her wearing? >> she did wear quite a bit of fur. how did she square with that? i don't know.
9:47 pm
i'm sure she didn't, she just thought that was fine. >> one other passion, baseball. >> she loved baseball more than the president. when i was writing about some of his great battles over taxes or fiscal problems or vetoing that he had to do, grace would take him to a baseball game. that is what they did in washington, and later when she was alone, she went to baseball with her friends in boston herself. >> she was a red sox fan. >> here they watched the washington senators, as they were known then. when did they decide that he would seek the presidency himself in 1924? >> i think it was pretty automatic. the moment it became clear among
9:48 pm
other politicians was when he gave a long speech, like a state of the union speech, around december of 1923. right before that speech, he was particularly cross, because he knew it was a key speech and if he did it well, he might truly be the candidate in 1924, and suddenly there was respect for him. this man knows how to lay out an agenda, take some risks, to focus and pick the risks. in that case, the risk was cutting taxes. that was his civil war, his big campaign was tax cuts. it was all laid out in that speech. >> before the election happened, a great tragedy struck the coolidge family, but we have not really set the stage for it. tell us about their two sons.
9:49 pm
>> they were teenagers when calvin was vice president. they were still at home in northampton. as i mentioned before, that was difficult. grace and calvin conferred with admiral boone, the assistant white house physician, and decided the boys should go to mercersburg academy in pennsylvania. maybe she could see them a little bit, and after talking to admiral boone, she felt it would be a good place for them. they would have good leadership with them and become fine young men. that was pretty much the decision. >> their sons' name were john and calvin junior. >> they were fairly close together. she felt she really raised them at home because calvin commuted to the general court in boston. she is the one who built the little roadster.
9:50 pm
she is the one who played with the boys. their father came home on weekends and often, i interviewed the president and first lady's son, he said i was supposed to be quiet when my father came home. he insisted we wear shoes with metal toes, so it was difficult for us. >> the two boys came home for vacation to the white house that summer. that is really when tragedy struck. we will learn a little bit more about what happened with the coolidge sons in our next video. >> let's head into the vault where we keep specific things about the coolidge family. grace coolidge's earlier life before her marriage to calvin coolidge, as well as documents about her relationship with her family, specifically her sons and her grandchildren. she was not only a loving wife, she was a loving mother. we have some wonderful correspondence that documents that.
9:51 pm
in 1922, she wrote to the head of the academy where both of her sons were, and she writes, "is there a way in which we can arrange for calvin junior to have a soft boiled egg for breakfast for a time without great inconvenience?" she was worried about his health. the other letter was written by calvin junior. he talks about his schooling, which was not going too well, his clothing, which needed updating because he was growing out of it, and his plans for traveling back to washington to visit his mom and dad. the letter reads, "i hope you are well and happy. i know you are happy. with love, calvin." here's an interesting side note, obviously he had forgotten to put something in the letter -- "send me some socks." it's sad too because we see it as basically the last documented letter that we have before
9:52 pm
calvin junior suddenly passes away while in washington. shortly after his death, people wrote to the president and first lady in the white house, sending their condolences. as was common at the time, grace and calvin acknowledged their sympathies by sending letters, thanking them for their condolences and their sympathy. the letters were always bordered in black as a way of showing they were in mourning. we actually have quite a few of those letters. john was the older and calvin junior was the younger. john coolidge did not die young. he lived to a very old age. we have a wonderful letter from john to his mother on her birthday. it is a wonderful letter that just describes his love. "dearest mother, just to let you know i'm thinking of you on your birthday and loving you as no boy has ever loved his mother."
9:53 pm
john and grace had a very close relationship throughout their life. he never really said much about how the passing of his brother affected the family. you can tell from the letters between john and grace until her passing, there were letters many times a year. whether that was increased by calvin junior's passing or not, there is really no way of knowing. i would assume that is the case. >> we did not hear the story of how he died. >> the boys loved tennis and some historians think grace taught them tennis when they were little which kind of makes sense. the white house had tennis courts. the boys played on the tennis courts on vacations. they were not there that much at the white house, but one day, calvin junior went out without any socks and he got a blister on his toe from playing tennis.
9:54 pm
nothing was made of this, but when the assistant white house physician arrived one day to play tennis again, he noticed that calvin junior was quite ill and had a fever. he did look him over and found there were streaks of red on his leg. admiral boone was alerted right away to do something about this. he called in military advisers and military physicians and civilian physicians. the family knew this was quite serious, and they also took samples and found out it was first staph, and then septicemia. even today you could die from septicemia. calvin and grace were shocked that anyone could lose a son this way. >> we just saw the note saying send me some socks.
9:55 pm
when you read of the death, it was a very painful death for their son, and they watched all of this. what happened to the first couple after their son's death? how did they respond? >> you want to remember that they were not the only ones in this period to lose a son. it was a much more common event. t.r. lost a son in world war i. all around them were people who had been through this singular experience. lincoln had lost a son, and there are echoes in the way this was handled. the paperboys called extra, the carts rolled with flowers. they set up the stations at the white house, people came to call, and the train went to take
9:56 pm
the sad cargo to vermont where calvin was buried. it was a very familiar, very american event. >> there is a quote of calvin coolidge about his reaction. "when he died, the power and the glory of the presidency went with him." some biographers suggest that in the time afterwards that he really went into a state of depression, that he was working shorter days, and that it was grace who was the more stable of the two. did your research show you that? >> no, actually, there is a very good biography that posits that by mr. gilbert. it says calvin coolidge could have completed his presidency, but his son died. i see it as more like abraham lincoln. lincoln prosecuted his war after the loss of his son. coolidge pursued his policy
9:57 pm
plans. he did things notwithstanding the loss of his presidency. more joyless, but still that perseverance. coolidge did not give up and grace did not give up. >> i think the difference between the two is interesting. when there were holidays, calvin would note who wasn't at the table. grace took joy with whoever was at the table. just very different in that way, the way they handled it. >> bill is watching from delaware. >> two quick questions. is it correct historically that the room we now know as the solarium was built by the coolidges because there was a roof leak? did that occur during his full term or prior to him being elected to a full term in 1924?
9:58 pm
since mrs. coolidge outlived president coolidge for so many years, did she develop a friendship with lou henry hoover, eleanor roosevelt, bess truman and mamie eisenhower, and did she ever go back to the white house? >> we know that there was a solarium built, and she retreated to it at the end of the first full term of president coolidge. i don't know whether she visited with succeeding first ladies. >> yes, she did, but back to the roof leak. yes, the roof had to be reinforced. it was cracking. they re-did the family quarters as well and put in more closets and that kind of thing. the coolidges had to move to dupont circle, so they were gone for a little while. grace even donned a hard hat to go in and look at what they were doing at the white house.
9:59 pm
so yes, that did happen. in terms of friendship with the other first ladies, yes. they did get together and there are people who saw madame roosevelt pay her respects to grace coolidge in northampton. so there was sort of a first ladies club in some ways. when they were suddenly thrust to the presidency, mrs. wilson came to call, mrs. taft came to call. the first ladies were very supportive of each other. >> what was their inauguration like? >> it was a little bit tense. it was ruined by the vice president who took the opportunity to berate the senate for blocking legislation and making everything so difficult. coolidge found that very unseemly and was disappointed. he thought his vice president dawes lacked discipline.
10:00 pm
he himself had served only the president and given a very short inaugural address when he was vice president. it was a day that wasn't as happy as they expected it to be. >> did they have an inaugural ball and a parade? >> i'm thinking not. he ball was cancelled the time the ball quass canceled. and that was one of the things, what shall we wear, there won't e an inaugural ball. . >> we do have this wonderful photograph and used on the front over and it is grace and president coolidge traveling together and what seems to be iconic is the expression on both of their faces, the president
10:01 pm
looking very serious and grace looking to be a fabulous time. >> she is going to take joy in the moment and it work for everybody. she thought it was her job and in this term they do win, she is more involved, when when he is mpaigning of he had ison and firestone and who visit with them, henry ford and involved in the conversation, she is talking to them, things are changing. > ellen on facebook, did grace coolidge vote. be publicly?
10:02 pm
>> she did. >> what was happening with women in politics as a result of their ability to participate with the vote? >> people thought they might vote another way, but they didn't. should they be in politics, and here were a few female appointments, no cab knelt ladies. it was more modest. >> so this was the time of the talkees came into being, the first films that had sound attached to them, this was the first president and first read. a short clip of president coolidge with film and sound.
10:03 pm
>> i want the people of america less for the work government. i want them to have their own industry. this is the chief meaning of freedom. until we can re-establish a accomplish until the earnings can be kept by the people we are curtailmentfer by a of our liberty. >> announces the opening of thanks giving day of the 22nd of the christmas field the proceeds go to the work which is being done by the tb in the united states of america.
10:04 pm
his is a picture of a scene of 100 of the fields. no letterses to your sweet hearts is authentic. >> >> a president and first lady and we have her on the sounds and film. i wanted to ask you about how being able to hear and see a president as you went to the movie theater, how did it change politics? >> it changed politics a lot. there was a myth that he wasn't good. he was very good on radio. they said his voice cut through the wire. .e ranked high in the polls
10:05 pm
our problem is we don't have those recordings. so it was popular, it was impactful as hoover and roosevelt would be. your question about grause kyleing. >> i wanted to ask about the rumor she had with a secret service agent. giveh a scandal and do you it credence? >> at what point in the presidency did this mini scandal. >> in the black hills when they were there. she and the secret service agent
10:06 pm
were lost and when they returned, calvin wasn't happy. and a cre set service agent is making sure she isn't hurt. he sent the secret service agent backs to washington, d.c., a said she was ok and hadn't fall yes or no down and was lost. so i say no there was nothing to this. she kept up communication with the family and felt embarrassed. this was very much in the public, no affair. she was an affair. >> we have accumulatings taffed
10:07 pm
les have additional places. there is a featured item and it was the i piano that was given to grace that she kept with the white house. >> she loved her music and had music and kept up her interest and iran have ited people to come and play the piano. music was important. she would turn on the radio to listen the music. air.nd you were on the >> and my question was regarding children and i hadn't heard
10:08 pm
anything about them and it did answer my question. >> thanks for watching. rf do you have any comment. >> i love the comment. >> thanks for making the call. >> the film was becoming enormously popular. id the coolidges involve celebrities? >> not only the hollywood celebrities to show they were jolly and they had this elaborate friendship with will rogers. i think he is like john stewart but he had columns. he did acts. he made movies and he was very funny and he came and called mrs. coolidge, his first female
10:09 pm
number one and they had a court shp going and charles lindberg, the flyer who had brk a celebrity by going over to paris in that way. bergs. ted the livend yes, of course they were with celebrities. nextlvin coolidge standing to charles lindberg. >> they wept to a talk at the dget burro and mrs. lindberg sort of got together, charles and ann morrow, that was the beginning of that idea. >> yt celebrity they brought to the white house, grace cooling
10:10 pm
ith the deaf and that is helen keller. we have some video. what is the significance of their visit? to len kellier wanted publicize the support of deaf education and they accommodated readic thelen keller viven. grace and call she brought children with disabilities to the white house and how light their needs. vermont.wport, and went to on jarred sale found a cook book put together
10:11 pm
in 1926 and there is a recipe from mrs. calvin coolidge and i have been missing the show and i would like to share the recipe. >> there are many great coolidge recipes online. her ser upona. >> when she gets so the white house, she has recipes that have been handed down and happy to share with the public. she felt that the first lead should leave something at the white house and she made a cover delet let of the bed. she did want to highlight crocheting.king and
10:12 pm
>> mrs. coolidge was asked to paperwoman and was that the first? >> absolutely not. we have a contrary person. my mother wouldn't have used sign language. i don't know. >> the coolidges by the decision to creailt the third floor space changed the white house. the creation of the so larium. we have a view of what it looked like and we are going to show what it looks like today. space is vch a private
10:13 pm
on the top floor of the white house. ?an you talk about her change >> she was involved. jackie kennedy. i would like to have congress allow gifts to be given to the white house han that did go through. she was able to accept gifts. she found olneyal antiques. the american institute of arbitration tects felt they were in charge. one point that they were in charge, they said we can't pursue this amendment to change the green room and red room.
10:14 pm
and she is one the one of the first ladies, the white house is a museum we must horge it. >> we have important points of the coolidge presidency and viet farm subsidies and he signed the revenue act which was lowering uch taxes. .> outlined war >> we mock it but it has a new attraction, because what he said maybe the rule of law, international law, might be a better step. that is interesting. though,otice with these they took capital to get them through. each one of them was hard for
10:15 pm
calvin and look at his marriage. scandals from the coolidges, he avoided scadgedals or re decorating the white house, he wanted the whol to pass laws. that is what you are elected for. maybeke to redecorate but you shouldn't do that. concentrated. that is what struck me. >> he was experiencing a number of problems, sum milt problems as his presidency progressed. how much was that in his decision not to run for re-election? >> when did he announce his
10:16 pm
zwigs did? >> in 1927. he went up to mount rushmore and he was a man concerned about having his head turned by awe power. he thought ifferppt, am i becoming a nars isist. plush didn't become that and he always thinks about humility. he tried very, very hard, not to turnabout me. d he writes about that and there he was at mount rushmore, big meds of giant presidents and think he was gross out about it. >> he doesn't want to be remembered by it and he stepped
10:17 pm
back and you can see in some footage at mount rushmore when there was going to tike the some step and he said i'm going to draw back. it was a very moral position not to run. summer of 1927. >> there are stories about how raceful was informed about her his decision not to run. how much did she know in advance? >> she didn't know in advance. i found the letters answer she said i'm getting and i'm going to be on the train. she didn't know about it and she hinted around like treat me like everybody else. however, when he amounsed that day, she acted as if she didn't
10:18 pm
know. it was once again, i have to stay out of this public policy, i don't want to comment. >> we have one more video as our program hurdles to its close and this is grace coolidge and baseball. >> qun of her letters that she wrote to her friend, yes, i was very much excited over baseball and terribly disappointed that the red sox lost. i met my friends as well as some of the players. she was a lafe lifelong baseball fan. she was the official score eeper for the vumplet u.v.m. baseball team than they were big boston red sox fans.
10:19 pm
when they went to washington, they had allegiance to the washington senators. we have a number of the season passes that she was given by the american league. they were issued to her in a books. pocket pockect we have them as part of the display. and we knowledge the president's interest in the sport but grace's passion for it. one of the i tempts it certificate she was given by the boston red sox and the washington nationals designating her first lady of the land, first lady of the baseball. very fine baseball that was iven to john cooling and it is
10:20 pm
signed by babe route and liu engineer ig. >> next up is joseph in massachusetts. imwondering if the panel is ware of coolidge's great-great-grandson who is america's one of of the greatest e et cetera i'll take your response. >> how many grandchildren? >> that would have been a direct line. calvin and grace had john and calvin junior. john married the governor of connecticut's daughter and had two daughters. and cynthia had chris and now
10:21 pm
he next generation is coming john has to children and two sons love baseball. >> the cool idges left the white house to return here. north hampton massachusetts where coolidge begun his career as a county seat and went back to their family home with not much distance to the sidewalks. and people did come up and as much as they wanted to fit back into their old clothes. they couldn't because it wasn't comfortable. people were hitting on them. they were treated to a house with the beaches. the president said the doingees
10:22 pm
can run here. ey could have could h some privacy. ter the president past away, she built another house. >> how much did they leave did the president away. >> in his retirement he did write detail articles and turned to grace and i said you could write to. e wrote to america "american magazine" she does tell about his life. he seem to feel strongly about what is happening in the nation, his friends say he is not good at figuring his medical problems and denies medical treatment and
10:23 pm
grace goes out and walks back and just by happenstance finds him and he has died. >> a quote from her about the death of her husband, i'm just a lost soul, nobody is going to be wleeve what i believe what i have to could and then calvin told me what i have to do. >> it is a different time and different kind of wife and for someone who didn't know what she was going to do, she did a lot of what was a widow. a story of grite love. president bush has built his library. and coolidge had to raise money for his library and he did get his friends, led by clarence barron of the "wall street
10:24 pm
journal" to raise $2 million. they didn't believe him. but he did what he said, he gave the money of his friends to his wife's favorite charity, the clark's school for the deaf because he was giving back. coolidge wanted to give to grace and therefore there was no great monument for the coolidge papers. only her charity and he knew it would pass and he knew it would being wonderful his wife could be the most important lady in the town and lead a charity and you couldn't think of a greater act of love than that. and decide what you make of this marriage and we find it quite wonderful. the clark school did it
10:25 pm
hroughout widowhood? >> she was constantly fundraising. >> he also was powerful as a senator. she understood politics and got his support for her cause, very, very smart of her. and when calvin did h died asked them to write their views and she contributed the last love letter and that was before he died. she did somewhat manipulate his image. >> josh in con kit. >> this is great talking about the 20's. my question is what happened after calvin died, did grace have to be the defender of the
10:26 pm
oolidge presidency through the ravages of the rest of the 30's? to answer to have for that? >> you don't have to accept that the policies of the 20's made the depression. grace didn't have to. she never been political. and that's the great liberty of not being political. she could say it is very sad and sigh her doing charity work but idn't have the burdenen of her policy. >> she whispied to friends that a depression was comings? to you.e, i defer
10:27 pm
people didn't know a crash was coming. >> coolidge had six or seven coming in his career. but they never led to a decade f double-digit unemployment. and the duration of it made it great in our memory. and he was be willedered by it and she was bewildered about it as well. >> what was her role during world war ii? >> in the run-up to world war ii, she was a champion of the jewish children and wanted to rescue children and proposed about 25 children come to the town of north hampton.
10:28 pm
i wouldn't swrb surprised that she wouldn't have taken in some herself. so she was brave with that stand and strong about america's participation. she urged americans to get involved in world war ii. >> was your question? >> good evening. my question has to do with race relations during the 1930's. i have seen several images of african-americans and what were the coolidges reactions tore race relations and what was going to? >> very briefly. someone wrote that he was deploring that blag man ran for
10:29 pm
office. coolidge wrote back that i'm appalled that anyone may run for office. he gave speech that kluxklan. e ku >> the author was not long after the civil war. think of the anorm mouse changes. years she spent in the white house. what should we remember her for? >> we should remember her for treating the white house as a museum. she took her job seriously. she thought he was the national hugger and hugged. keep the doors open for the public.
10:30 pm
also keep her husband and her children happy. it was important to be a good wife and mother, provide a solid home life. that's what she saw as her role a add voy indicate for people with disability. july, 1957, ied in you can visit their grave sites. >> i hope you do. of specially the fourth july. what should she be remembered for? >> her great joy. transend any trouble flow her faith and joy.

90 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on