Calvin Coolidge became President in 1923, when Warren Harding died suddenly. Coolidge restored the confidence of the American people in their government, and won a landslide election to a full term of his own in 1924. During the campaign, however, tragedy struck the happy Coolidge family. Their youngest son died suddenly. Coolidge wrote in his autobiography, “When he went, the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him.”
The eldest of Calvin and Grace Coolidge’s two children was John Coolidge, born on September 7, 1906 in Northampton, Massachusetts. When his father became President, John was a trainee at a citizens military training camp at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. He graduated from Mercersburg Academy in the spring of 1924, as his father started to run for election to a full term as President. John was not comfortable in the spotlight of national attention, and spent little time in the White House during his father’s term. He attended Amherst College, from which he graduated in 1928.
On September 23, 1929, John married Florence Trumbull, the daughter of the Governor of Connecticut. John was an executive with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad until 1941, when he became the president of a printing company in Hartford, Connecticut. When he retied, he settled in Farmington, Connecticut.
John Coolidge defended his father’s administration, maintaining that historians have not fairly evaluated the Coolidge Presidency. He wrote, “I do not believe they have thoroughly researched the administration’s accomplishments in the context of time.” He also said that he regrets that President Coolidge’s “philosophy of thrift and the role of government are no longer in vogue.” But after the election of Ronald Reagan, he hoped that “perhaps they will become more so in the Reagan administration.” John believes that his father would view today’s world “dimly and sorrowfully,” and believes that his father would not run for President today, and if he did, he would probably be defeated.
Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born on April 13, 1908 in Northampton, Massachusetts. He also attended Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. When his father became President, Calvin, Jr. was working at a job picking tobacco during his summer vacation. When he and John came home to the White House during the summer, Calvin, Jr. developed a blister on his toe (one source says it was his heel) playing tennis without wearing socks on the White House tennis courts. The blister became infected, and the infection became blood poisoning. This was in the days before modern antibiotics, and he died from the blood poisoning on July 7, 1924. He was sixteen years old. The President and Mrs. Coolidge were devastated, but had to continue their duties, and the election campaign.
It was a sad coincidence that President Calvin Coolidge lost his only sibling, his sister Abbie, when she was fifteen, probably from appendicitis.
Both the Coolidge boys were quiet, friendly, and popular with their peers and both shared their father’s love of animals. Their house in Northampton was filled with pets, and so was the White House during their time there. Among their many pets was a raccoon named Rebecca who had a tendency to bite Republicans. The family joke was that she was a Democrat.
The White House has seen its share of tragedies, including the untimely deaths of presidential children. Seldom has the First Family been so affected as the close knit Coolidge family was by the sudden death of their youngest son.