On the Mothers Coolidge

Victoria Josephine Coolidge, the President's mother

Victoria Josephine Coolidge, the President’s mother

“It seems impossible that any man could adequately describe his mother. I can not describe mine.

“On the side of her father, Hiram Dunlap Moor, she was Scotch with a mixture of Welsh and English. Her mother, Abigail (Franklin) Moor, was chiefly of the old New England stock. She bore the name of two Empresses, Victoria Josephine. She was of a very light and fair complexion with a rich growth of brown hair that had a glint of gold in it. Her hands and features were regular and finely modeled. The older people always told me how beautiful she was in her youth.

“She was practically an invalid ever after I could remember her, but used what strength she had in lavish care upon me and my sister, who was three years younger. There was a touch of mysticism and poetry in her nature which made her love to gaze at the purple sunsets and watch the evening stars.

“Whatever was grand and beautiful in form and color attracted her. It seemed as though the rich green tints of the foliage and the blossoms of the flowers came for her in the springtime, and in the autumn it was for her that the mountain sides were struck with crimson and with gold.

“When she knew that her end was near she called us children to her bedside, where we knelt down to receive her final parting blessing.

“In an hour she was gone. It was her thirty-ninth birthday. I was twelve years old. We laid her away in the blustering snows of March. The greatest grief that can come to a boy came to me. Life was never to seem the same again.” — Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge, 12-13, 16.


Coolidge Family at White House

The Coolidges (Cal Jr., Grace Coolidge, the President, and John) on the east side of the South Portico of the White House (1924, not long before Calvin Jr.’s death). Photo credit: Corbis.

“…A bud vase was placed beside Calvin Jr.’s picture, and Mrs. [Grace] Coolidge put a rose in it every day. If she were not at home, Mama would see to it that a fresh white rose was there. Sometimes, Mrs. Coolidge would close herself in the Green Suite on the second floor, and play the piano she had brought to the White House. Mama knew she was playing her son’s favorite pieces and feeling close to him, and did not disturb her.

“All the rest of the days in the White House would be shadowed by the tragic loss, even though the President tried harder than ever to make his little dry jokes and to tease the people around him.

“A little boy came to give the President his personal condolences, and the President gave word that any little boy who wanted to see him was to be shown in. Backstairs, the maids cried a little over that, and the standing invitation was not mentioned to Mrs. Coolidge.

“The President was even more generous with the First Lady than he had been before the tragedy. He would bring her boxes of candy and other presents to coax a smile to her lips.

“He brought her shawls. Dresses were short in the days of Mrs. Coolidge, and Spanish shawls were thrown over them. He got her dozens of them. One shawl was so tremendous that she could not wear it, so she draped it over the banister on the second floor, and it hung over the stairway. The President used to look at it with a ghost of a smile.

“Mrs. Coolidge spent more time in her bedroom among her doll collection. She kept the dolls on the Lincoln bed. At night, when Mama would turn back the covers, she would have to take all the dolls off the bed and place them elsewhere for the night. Mama always felt that the collection symbolized Mrs. Coolidge’s wish for a little girl.

“Among the dolls was one that meant very much to the First Lady, who would pick it up and look at it often. It had a tiny envelope tied to its wrist. An accompanying sympathetic letter explained that inside the envelope was a name for Mrs. Coolidge’s first granddaughter. Mama knew this doll was meant to help Mrs. Coolidge overcome her grief by turning her eyes to the future…

All through the years I wondered what had become of the doll with the message…And then, in April of 1959, a great event occurred in the annals of the White House — a meeting of all the living descendants of the Presidents…there was one name I was waiting to hear. And then I heard it. John Coolidge arrived with his wife and two daughters. The younger was Lydia, and his first-born was Cynthia” [the name in the envelope which had been tied around Mrs. Coolidge’s special doll]. — My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House by Lillian Rogers Parks, 187-189, 198-199.

Precious Four and Grace 001

Grace Coolidge and her “Precious Four”: son John, granddaughters Cynthia and Lydia with their mother Florence, at the dedication of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Room at Forbes Library, Northampton, Massachusetts, September 1956. Photo credit: Stoddard. (1989). Grace and Cal: A Vermont Love Story, 153.


Happy Mother’s Day, mothers!


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