Jennifer Harville: On the Coolidge Legacy

From the great-granddaughter of Calvin and Grace Coolidge, we have an interview answering what is the legacy of our thirtieth President?

It is instructive that Mrs. Harville notes her interest in the history and legacy has certainly been life-long but that it is also something which has grown in importance to her as the mantle for its preservation and continuance came to her far sooner than anyone could have expected. Nevertheless, when it came, with it has come the power to carry it much like what her great-grandfather once said of the Presidency itself. Such can certainly be said of families all across our country, that when circumstances create a need for leadership, with it leaders are prepared to furnish what is needed, even when the person being prepared may not feel ready or equipped for the task.

So, what does Mrs. Harville say is the legacy of Calvin Coolidge?

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The Coolidges stand outside the Executive Offices on the edge of the South Lawn. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

“I want people to know that he was a very decent, down-to-earth human being…that he was a very likable gentleman…that he was able to work with all sorts of people on both sides of the aisle, which I find very refreshing…[that] he was able to get votes from both parties at the time…[that] he was kind of like the boy next door…he was very likable!…did not seem very intimidating. He did have a very dry wit, a New England sense of humor. He was shy. He did not enjoy small talk very much but he did have his own opinion about things…”

Both Cal and Grace were supremely modest and what made them so likeable was their very natural absence of pretentiousness accompanied with a full heart for people. Some make the mistake of characterizing Grace alone this way but they fail to see that it was also in abundant supply in Calvin. Grace saw it in him immediately and they were much more alike than is commonly thought, perhaps even in ways neither could quantify themselves. They were simple folks and that simplicity was authentic, who they truly were.

When turning to the impressions of Plymouth Notch, the President’s birthplace, now preserved much as he would have recognized growing up but most especially during his administration in the 1920s, Mrs. Harville observes the key take-a-way: That anyone can rise to the highest leadership from the same simplest of beginnings. It should continue to be a place of inspiration for all who go there. It is there that who the Coolidges were and why they are worth knowing can be sensed in ways no other place comes close to capturing.

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President Coolidge assumes pose for Grace as she prepares to take his picture while cameramen film them both at Plymouth Notch. Photo credit: Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina.

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