Calvin Coolidge with Ham


NAME: John Calvin Coolidge. He was named after his father but was always called Calvin or Cal at home to avoid confusion. He dropped the first name after graduating from college.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Coolidge stood about 5 feet 9 inches tall and was slightly built. He had finely chiseled features, a narrow pointed nose, cleft chin, small deeply set blue eyes, and thin pursed lips. The red hair of his youth turned sandy in maturity. He spoke with a New England nasal twang. He walked in short, quick steps. He suffered from chronic respiratory and digestive ailments. As president he underwent frequent attacks of asthma, hay fever, bronchitis, and stomach upset. He relied on nasal sprays to relieve his swollen sinuses and took a variety of pills for other symptoms. He coughed so often that he feared he had tuberculosis. He tired easily and usually slept about 11 hours a day, 9 hours at night and a 2-hour nap in the afternoon. He dressed fashionably in suits tailor-made in Vermont. He slicked down his hair with petroleum jelly. Curiously, he insisted on wearing baggy underwear.

PERSONALITY: Coolidge was shy, undemonstrative, restrained, cautious wholly self-reliant, and a man of few friends. “When I was a little fellow,” Coolidge recalled, “as long ago as I can remember, I would go into a panic if I heard strange voices in the kitchen. I felt I just couldn’t meet the people and shake hands with them…The hardest thing in the world was to have to go through the kitchen door and give them a greeting. I was almost ten before I realized I couldn’t go on that way. And by fighting hard I used to manage to get through that door. I’m all right with old friends, but everytime I meet a stranger, I’ve got to go through that old kitchen door, back home, and it’s not easy.” Coolidge was frugal but no sponger. When he send an aide out for a magazine, for example, he expected his change, even if it was just a nickel, and complained if he did not get it promptly. Whenever he borrowed a minor sum, he quickly repaid it to the penny. His reputation as a man of few, but witty, words was legend. A typical exchange involved the hostess who came up to him and said, “You must talk to me, Mr. President. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge replied, “You lose.”

PRIMARY SOURCE: DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. 7th ed. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009.

Calvin Coolidge with Ham

Warren G. HardingHerbert Hoover