Completing the Vice Presidential period (speeches between March 1921 and August 1923), in our “Best of Coolidge” Readings, is this shorter but incisive address given at Wheaton College, at that time an exclusively female institution, in Norton, Massachusetts, on June 19, 1923. In less than two months’ time, Coolidge would be President of the United States, and go from being relegated to the backseat of administration business to front, center, and in command of it. This speech is a fitting companion to his Evanston Address (“The Price of Freedom”), given that January, and merits a place as one of his best speeches for its clarity of expression and power of thought. His grasp of the issues is evident well before he becomes The President, as these speeches display, but there is a timeless quality to Calvin Coolidge’s speeches that simply is not found in much, if any, oratory today. His own classically liberal education certainly honed his already-present talents as a thinker and writer.
This speech not only reveals a sharp and nimble mind behind it but also holds much for the listener to appreciate now. He speaks not only about the service liberal education requires of those blessed to have it, but also about our own need to broaden perspective when it comes to whatever we do, the work (however menial) we perform, and the kind of values we expound. Coolidge says far more in thirty minutes than most do in a couple hours and this speech is no exception. He captures the beauty of living both directly and indirectly under the influence of classically liberal education, embodying far more than trivia that prepares one for Jeopardy, it is rather a comprehensive equipment of body, mind, and soul…something altogether missing from too many schoolrooms these days. Coolidge is speaking of more than “cookie-cutter” education or factory-made humanity, he extols the freedom and worth of the individual, the dignity of work, and, by preserving the primacy of the unseen and spiritual over the worldly and material, gives us a glimpse into the richness and grandeur of the true art of living afforded by classically liberal education.
The more classical education returns in our homes, throughout our neighborhoods, and in our classrooms, the brighter will the future be. I would also add, with a reappraisal of classical education, the thoughts and deeds of men like Mr. Coolidge will likewise rise in public knowledge and esteem.