The Sign of Grace

The year 1823 marked the end of the Champlain Valley’s relative isolation from the outside world and its entry into the US national economy.  The opening of the Champlain Canal fundamentally affected the economic development of the Champlain Valley in and around Lake Champlain, Burlington, VT.  The Champlain Canal also provided residents of Vermont and northeastern New York with manufactured goods and raw materials that had previously cost a great deal to ship overland or import from Canada. 

Andrew Goodhue (1848-1923), at the age of eighteen, moved to Nashua, New Hampshire, to begin an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer. Lemira Barret (1849-1929) was raised by her maternal grandmother and met Andrew in Nashua while he was working on his apprenticeship and they were married in  on April 7, 1870.  Accepting a job offer as engineer of Gates Cotton Mill in Burlington, Vermont, he and his new bride relocated to Burlington, Vermont in 1870.  In 1886, he bought and operated a machine shop, in partnership with William Lang, for two years where the company was known for building hydraulic pumping machines for water works plants throughout the country. 

An opportunity arose in 1887 when, as a loyal member of the Vermont Democratic Party, Goodhue was given the political appointment of Champlain Transportation Company inspector by President Grover Cleveland.  This post required him to make an annual safety check commercial steamboats of the district’s waterways, including Lake Champlain and part of New York State. 

Captain Andrew Goodhue and Lemira’s first and only child was born January 3, 1879 in Burlington, VT and the family lived at 123 Maple Street.  Grace Anna Goodhue was about 8 when her father joined the steamboat company.  During these years, young Grace was a middle school student studying musical privately with a piano purchased by her parents for lessons in their home.  Later in high school, while continuing her music education, Grace  studied Latin, French, geology, biology, and chemistry, as well as a routine course of academic study in English, math, history, geography, and literature, characterizing herself as a quick learner, but a procrastinator.

Grace was especially gifted in elocution which provided her clear diction for the rest of her life and, unusual for that era, gave her a voice pattern free of regional accent. She delivered the high school commencement address at her graduation on a topic considering the consequences of a lack of discipline and purpose in life.  Grace was quite an accomplished woman when she entered the University of Vermont in 1898.  She was a very good student and quite involved in activities in college.  Toward the end of her college career, she took courses in lip reading which prepared her for a job the Clarke School for the deaf, moving to Northhampton, MA, for her new position teaching the deaf. 

Grace was in her second year at the Clarke when she met Calvin Coolidge, a young lawyer serving on the Northampton city council but living at the school. The pairing of these two seemed to be odd as Calvin was very quiet and austere and she loved dancing and the theater and was fun loving. Lemira opposed her daughter’s budding romance with Coolidge and advised her, to no avail, to turn down his marriage proposal.  They were married October 5, 1905 at the Goodhue home in Burlington, VT.  Later, Lemira Goodhue only made one trip to the White House during her daughter’s tenure as First Lady in 1925.

Did Grace Coolidge know sign language? Oh YES!  After some time as a deaf educator, even in an oral school, she would have been exposed to lots of sign language.  It is quite possible that she was fluent in sign language even though the Clarke school was a well known oral school 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. While she and Calvin used to sign to each other at state gatherings, 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 still not allowed to speak to the press, so she gave a five-minute sign language speech at a luncheon. Grace earned enormous sympathy from Americans in the summer of 1924. 

After her husband died in 1933, Mrs. Coolidge continued to campaign on behalf of deaf children’s education the rest of her life.  In 1935 she was elected Head of the Board of Trustees for Clarke School for the Deaf and in 1955 spearheaded another fund raising drive netting 3 million dollars to improve the school.  Under her leadership on the board of Trustees, the school grew to 17 buildings where she often visited the classes….all of her students knew her by name! 


National First Ladies Library (2017).  Grace Coolidge.  Retrieved May 30, 2017.

University of Vermont (2017). Historic Burlington, Vermont.  Retrieved May 30, 2017.


National First Ladies Library (2017).  Grace Coolidge.  Retrieved May 30, 2017.

About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.