January 3, 2010

Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge
January 3, 1879 – July 8, 1957

By Bug

Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge was the wife of U.S President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady of the United States from 1923 to 1929. She knew sign language. She taught at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts. Also, she was a trustee of that school during World War 1. She was a very popular first lady who did much to aid the deaf.  

Grace was only one child in the family. After her father suffered an accident when she was four year old and Grace was sent to stay with the Yale family for almost one year until her father recovered. Yale’s older daughter June was teaching at the Clarke School for the Deaf. Grace found her interest in the deaf even though she wanted to teach them when she grew up.

Calvin Coolidge(standing far right of picture below with Gardiner Greene Hubbard in the center) lived on campus of Clarke School for the Deaf where he met his future wife Grace Anna Goodhue (standing far left of picture).

Many years later Grace grew up to be a young lady, she went to the University of Vermont and graduated in 1902. After that she moved back and stayed with the Yale family while teaching at Clarke School for the Deaf. She taught both the lower and intermediate levels. Grace met Calvin Coolidge in the spring of 1905. While Grace was watering flowers outside the school one day, she happened to look up at the open window of in Adams House (formerly known as Robert N Weir House), a faculty house behind to the school’s main dormitory and caught a glimpse of Calvin Coolidge shaving in front of a mirror with nothing on but long underwear and a hat. She burst out laughing at the sight; he heard the noise and turned to look at her. It was their first meeting. After a more formal introduction sometime later, the two were quickly attracted to each other and got married on October 4, 1905 at her parents’ home in Vermont. They had two sons, John in 1906 and Calvin, Jr, in 1908.

 In 1920 her husband Calvin Coolidge was a Vice President until 1923 President Warren G. Harding died from a heart attack or stroke. Then he Calvin became a U.S. President. Six years later on the afternoon of their departure from the White House on March 4, 1929, Calvin Coolidge announced that they had achieved their goal and raised two million dollars for the Clarke School for the Deaf.

She was voted one of America’s greatest living women in 1931. She received a gold medal for her distinguished service to the school and her fine influence as First Lady.

After Grace’s husband died in 1933, for the first time in her life, she was free to set her own agenda. She helped fundraising efforts for the Clarke School, traveled extensively throughout Europe, avidly followed the Boston Red Sox because she loved baseball, and enjoyed visiting with son John and his family.

She kept her aversion to publicity and her sense of fun until her death on July 8, 1957 at the age of 78. She was buried next to the president at Plymouth, Vermont. Her son John Coolidge died on May 31, 2000 at age 93

Did Grace Coolidge know sign language? Possible! She did not use sign language much where she taught at the oral school where she learned a method of teaching the deaf to communicate with lip-reading rather than sign language. When Calvin became President, he forbade Grace to do anything out of the ordinary. She was not allowed to dance in public, give speeches, drive an automobile, or fly in an airplane. In fact, when she was asked to give a speech by a group of women reporters, she obliged them, while obeying her husband’s edict against public speaking, by giving the entire speech in sign language. When her child Calvin, Jr. died after a blister on his foot developed into blood poisoning. Grace was not allowed to speak to the press so she once gave a five-minutes sign language speech at a luncheon. Grace earned enormous sympathy from Americans in the summer of 1924.

Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge Timeline

1883 Grace Coolidge was 4 year old and said that she wanted to be a teacher for the deaf after she saw her host sister teaching at the Clarke School for the Deaf.

1902 – 1905  Grace Goodhue was a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf. She left the school after only three years of service to marry Calvin and join him in his political career.

July 1924: Once in the White House, Grace believed that the First Lady had an obligation to work on social issues of the day. Education for the deaf was a major concern, along with child welfare. When the Coolidges’ son, sixteen-year-old Calvin, Jr., died suddenly on July 7, 1924, the nation grieved along with the beloved First Lady.  She was silent so she used her sign language to the press.

September 26, 1924: William F. Garcelon of Boston director of Coolidge and Dawes clubs since they were running for office, announced thousands of people will be mobilized through “Deaf and Dumb” clubs. Clubs will be organized in all states

Helen Keller reading the lips of Grace Coolidge while standing by stairs, 1926.

 January 12-14 1926: Helen Keller visited the White House! She placed her fingers on the lips of President and Mrs. Coolidge to communicate with them. Mrs. Coolidge received Ms. Keller, her teacher, Mrs. Macy, and her secretary, Miss Thompson. Miss Keller is raising $2 million for the fund for the Foundation for the Blind. At a gathering at the Washington auditorium, Miss Keller addressed 2,000 people to raise funds. 

 January 29, 1927: Mrs. Coolidge received the graduating class of a public school for the deaf from New York City.

 June 2, 1927: Mrs. Coolidge received the graduates of a school for the deaf from New York City.

 June 1928: Mrs. Coolidge visited Dr. Caroline A. Yale, head of the Clarke School for the Deaf, and the woman who trained Grace as a teacher of the deaf.

 November 16, 1928: tea with representatives from the Clarke School for the Deaf. There was a lunch for sponsors and $2million is to be raised for the school. The Coolidges hoped that this will “arouse a greater interest in the problems of the deaf and in this humanitarian work which has so seemingly failed to keep pace with progress in other fields.” The fund will be used for the modernization of buildings and creation of a research department.

March 3, 1929: $2 million was raised for the Clarke School for the Deaf. Mrs. Coolidge will present the check when she arrives in Northampton and leaves the White House.

March 4 1929: Upon taking the train and leaving Washington, they thanked the donors who raised $2million for the school. The funds created the Clarence W. Barron Research Department which would study experimental phonetics, the heredity of deafness, and the psychological difficulties of the deaf child.

After 1933 Mrs. Coolidge continued to campaign on the behalf of deaf children’s education the rest of her life. In 1935 she was head of the board of trustees at the Clarke School for the Deaf and in 1955 began another fund raising drive for 3 million dollars to improve the school. One of the trustees was Senator John F. Kennedy. The school grew to 17 buildings, and she often visited classes. All the students knew her by name.

to learn more about  Grace Coolidge : http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/first-ladies/gracecoolidge


Categories: Deaf History
  1. Jean Boutcher
    January 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Interesting story!

    I seem to recall having read somewhere that a hearing relative of President Obama uses sign language. Does she use it for interpretion or for teaching in the classroom in Chicago. Maybe Gallaudet University shoud invite her to visit at the Laurent Clerc National Education of the Deaf.

  2. Lisa C.
    January 3, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    That’s a very interesting story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Julie
    January 3, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    A hearing relative of President Obama uses sign language?? How ironic!! I’ve never seen ANY interpreters stand beside him to interprete!

  4. TJL
    January 4, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Obama’s wife Mitchelle who went to Whitney Young High School in Chicago from year 1978 to 1981.That time there were 300 deaf students . Mitchelle was a notetaker for deaf student in her class. What I heard on Mitchelle’s side of her family that on who was a teacher for the deaf ..

  5. Jerry N
    January 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    VERY interesting! TJL….. I appreciate your sharing the info on Michelle Obama as a student at Whitney Young Magnet School! Power to us with Chicago connections!

  6. J
    January 11, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Can you please cite the source of the info above stating that Grace Coolidge gave a speech using sign? Where is that documented?

  7. A.J.
    January 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    What made her to learn sign language? Why did she want to learn sign language and work at deaf school?

  8. Mike
    January 16, 2010 at 1:18 am

    J, it seems that you have a little doubt in Bug, do you? It is a matter of well-documented historical fact that Bug found and wrote it because I believed in him. I read about her a long time ago and remember that Grace Coolidge did signing without voice in the public. I think she was still heartbroken after her son died. Maybe you want to research on your own.

  9. Malorro
    January 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Julie, here in Kansas City, MO, I can assure you sign language interpreters are there when President Obama is here making speeches.

  10. Judy Radonich
    July 22, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Thank you for this story about Grace Allen Goodhue Coolidge, I Didn’t know
    about her life, her charming life. Judy

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