(Host) Recent historial research by commentator Cyndy Bittinger has inspired her to think about love and how it used to be expressed in letters.
(Bittinger) One of the sweetest Vermont love stories I know of has been tucked away like a perfumed lace doily carefully placed in the musty black scrapbook of history.
The words, “I have thought of you all the time since I left home” are in the last letter in this presidential collection deposited at the Vermont History Center many years ago by the Coolidge family.
This is a Valentine story.
Grace Coolidge carefully wrote on the envelope the words “his last letter” since it was sent to her in 1932, when her husband, former U. S. President Calvin Coolidge, had traveled to New York for a meeting of the directors of the New York Life Insurance Company. He was anxious to return to New England and the love of his life, Grace. Calvin died a month later.
They were Vermonters who had left our state for Massachusetts: Grace Goodhue to teach deaf children in 1902; Calvin Coolidge to attend Amherst College in 1891 and read the law, for he could not afford law school. Theirs was a love at first sight.
They were neighbors in Northampton who met through friends and dated at picnics and on long walks around Paradise Pond. Calvin had been most awkward in dating Grace. He traveled to visit her family and blurted out to her father, “Up here to ask your permission to marry Grace.” Grace had not even known about it! As Calvin said, “She soon will.” Her mother opposed the union. She wanted them to delay a year so Grace could return home and learn to cook. Calvin disagreed and replied that they could buy bread!
They married in her family’s home in Burlington and set up housekeeping in a two family house in Northampton, Massachusetts. The early years were difficult. On a tight budget as lawyer, Coolidge took on the town’s cases. They couldn’t live within their means. Calvin’s father often sent along extra money he earned as a part time farmer, legislator, blacksmith and insurance agent in Plymouth, Vermont.
As Calvin progressed up the political ladder in Massachusetts, the couple was often too busy to celebrate their anniversary on October 4th. Calvin rarely gave Grace presents, but he loved to see her in beautiful dresses that he bought on shopping trips. He wanted her to be remembered. He commissioned many portraits of her by famous artists of the day. Who can forget the stately First Lady in the red dress with the white collie, a painting now in the Red Room at the White House?
Only in retirement did Calvin have time for a cozy dinner for two at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts when the inn was closed to the public.
Grace knew that Calvin loved Vermont as well. “As he grows older I think he will turn more and more to these peaceful hills,” she wrote to her friends. “It is in the Coolidge blood and I think you will all agree that where he leads I follow.”
This is Cyndy Bittinger documenting the Coolidge legacy in Plymouth.
Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.