Essays, Papers & Addresses

Victoria Josephine Moor Coolidge

by Hendrik Booraem V.

Hendrik Booraem V was born in New York City and grew up in South Carolina. A social and political historian, he was educated at the University of Virginia and The Johns Hopkins University and has taught at the State University of New York, College at Purchase; Rutgers University at Camden; and Lehigh University. His previous books include The Formation of the Republican Party in New York and The Road to Respectability: James A. Garfield and His World, 1844-1852. His special interest is in the early lives of American presidents viewed as fragments of American social history.

Calvin Coolidge was twelve years old, he recalled in his autobiography, when “the greatest grief that can come to a boy” came to him: his mother, Victoria Josephine Moor Coolidge, died. It was March 14, 1885, her thirty-ninth birthday. The ground was still frozen, and the body could not be interred properly for some weeks more, but they “laid her away in the blustering snows of March,” and Calvin, a silent, serious boy, struggled to cope with his overwhelming sense of loss. In the following year he would often walk at sunset to the village cemetery, less than a mile from his home, to stand beside his mother’s grave. He kept a small portrait of her, in a silver case, on his person all his life, through his presidency and beyond. It was found in a suit pocket the day he died.

Coolidge was an intensely sensitive and sentimental man, although his natural reticence let him to conceal the fact. He was deeply emotional about close relationships, and it is not surprising that he remained devoted to his mother’s memory. But it is interesting that he shared these qualities with her. Victoria Moor Coolidge, like her son, was fond of reading, stirring language, and natural beauty. An invalid during most of Calvin’s boyhood, she used to read poems to him and his sister Abbie. Together, from the front porch, they would drink in the spectacular sunsets over the Green Mountains.

Victoria Moor was born in the house next door to the Coolidge home in 1846, to Hiram and Abigail Moor. She married John Coolidge when she was twenty-two. As a girl she was light-skinned, with delicate features and a golden glint in her hair à very much the same as her son when he was young. Her features, Coolidge always felt, were very similar to those of his younger son Calvin Jr. Her temperament, observant and witty, also seems to have been much the same.

Vermont vital records, usually thorough and reliable, do not give a cause of death for Victoria Coolidge. There are two traditions: one, that she was injured in a buggy accident when Calvin was small, became an invalid, and died of unspecified complications; the other, that she died slowly of tuberculosis. Both may be right. The image of her that remained with her son was that of the patient, kind sufferer who called her children to her side in the sitting room to give them her dying blessing, that snowy March of 1885.

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