Historic Photo: First Lady Grace Coolidge with her dog, 1924.

More than just an "aww" moment from the past, there is some interesting history behind this picture.

Historic Photo: First Lady Grace Coolidge with her dog, 1924.

This charming photo, taken on September 26, 1924 on the lawn of the White House, shows the then First Lady of the United States, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, with her dog Rob Roy. Aside from being an "Aww!" moment from the past, this is an interesting picture on a number of levels. To understand them all, one needs to know something about Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States, his wife, their family, and their history. Not many people know much about Coolidge, so a photo like this is likely to just slide by today without much appreciation other than the obvious fact that Rob Roy is utterly adorable.

The new deep-dive video I'm working on for my YouTube channel, which I hope (fingers crossed) to complete this weekend, is about the Presidential election of 1924 and the fascinating story behind it. I found this picture, and several others of the Coolidges with Rob Roy, during the research phase for this video. Almost all U.S. Presidents have had pets of one kind or another. The Coolidges loved animals and had numerous pets. In addition to Rob Roy, a white collie that the Coolidges got from a kennel in Wisconsin, they also had a wirehair fox terrier named Peter Pan, an Airedale called Paul Pry, two canaries named Nip and Tuck, and even a raccoon. But Rob Roy was special to them. Not only was a portrait of the President painted with Rob Roy, but Grace Coolidge had her picture painted with him too, one of the most striking First Lady portraits of all time. It now hangs in the White House china room.

Coolidge has a reputation for being cold, stoic, silent and unemotional. His historical nickname is "Silent Cal," and when he was running for election in his own right in 1924, having succeeded to the White House after the death of Warren Harding in August 1923, one of his opponents, Democrat John W. Davis, even tried to make Coolidge's silence a campaign issue. But in reality both of the Coolidges were warm, effusive, loving people. The President was shy and withdrawn in public and with strangers, but he was extremely emotional and especially warm to his family. Grace Coolidge was nothing if not a class act. She too was known for being soft-spoken and shunning publicity, but this photo demonstrates how warm she was. Dogs bring out the best in people, and they did in the Coolidges as well.

The famous portrait of Grace Coolidge with Rob Roy. It was painted by Howard Chandler Christy in 1924, the year her husband was elected to his own term as President.

There is a tragedy lurking under the surface of this happy picture. As I said, it was taken on September 26, 1924, during the campaign season. Less than three months earlier, on July 7, 1924, the Coolidges' 16-year-old son Calvin Jr. died of sepsis which he contracted from an infected blister on his toe. Cal Jr., one of the couple's two sons, got the blister while playing tennis in the courts behind the White House, not far from where this photo was eventually taken. He was not wearing socks under his sneakers because it was very hot that day, June 30. When Cal Jr. died a week later, not only did it send President Coolidge into a paroxysm of grief from which he never recovered, but it took the wind out of his sails as a man and as a President. He campaigned little. Once diligent at his work, there are reports that, following his son's death, President Coolidge sometimes slept 16 hours a day. In his memoirs he noted how the tragedy gutted him. Coolidge himself died, only 60, in 1933.

But this picture shows a moment of joy, and it must have been a welcome one for a grieving mother. You see nothing of her personal tragedy on Grace Coolidge's face here. Rob Roy is an utter joy, as dogs should be. Given all the time I've spent with the Coolidges, metaphorically speaking, while working on this video, I can't help but admire them greatly and also feel moved by their sadness. Coolidge's political and historical reputation is controversial, but he and his wife were salt of the earth as people, and I think you can see a glimpse of it in this photo.

The Value Proposition

Why should you be reading this blog, or receiving it as a newsletter? This is why.

☕ If you appreciate what I do, buy me a virtual coffee from time-to-time to support my work. I know it seems small, but it truly helps.

📖 You could also buy my newest book.

🎓 Like learning? Find out what courses I’m currently offering at my website.

📽 More the visual type? Here is my YouTube channel with tons of free history videos.