Grace Goodhue and Calvin Coolidge – Pi Beta Phi and Phi Gamma Delta – The First President and First Lady Initiated into Greek-Letter Societies while in College

The bottom of the card reads "Phi Gamma Delta - Calvin Coolidge Fraternity - Amherst College, Mass."

 

When Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President on August 3, 1923, it heralded a fraternity first. The nation had its first couple who had both been initiated as members of Greek letter societies while in college.

Grace Goodhue was a charter member of the Vermont Beta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi. In fact, the chapter was installed in the Goodhue family home, now part of Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. Her husband, a native Vermonter, attended Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He became a member of the Alpha Chi Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. The chapter was chartered in 1893. Coolidge graduated Cum Laude from Amherst in 1895.

An article in the December 1923 Arrow of Pi Beta Phi highlighted this fact “Both Phi Gamma Delta and Pi Beta Phi are indebted to President and Mrs. Coolidge not simply for reflected glory, but for the earnest enthusiasm and constructive aid, which they have given their respective organizations during the past. President Coolidge has not merely assisted his Fiji brothers with advice but was one of two men who negotiated a loan of $2,000 in order to help his chapter buy a lot when they most needed substantial aid. Mrs. Coolidge has given years of her life to unselfish service in various fraternity offices.”

The Coolidge’s son, John, was also a member of the Phi Gamma Delta “Fiji” chapter at Amherst College. In 1925, on the fraternity’s Founders’ Day, May 1, Sires and Sons was founded at the White House by six Phi Gamma Delta fathers.  Any Fiji son or Fiji sire is eligible for membership with a donation to the fraternity’s Educational Foundation. The fraternity has a limited numbers of certificates signed by John Coolidge, first son of the Fiji Sires and Sons.

After the chapter’s founding, it occupied two smaller houses.  The house in the postcard, at 81 Lessey Street, was built around 1835 by Robert Cutler for Luke Sweetser. When Sweetser died in 1882, the house was acquired by the Oak Grove School for Girls. In 1903, the chapter acquired the house. An extensive renovation took place in 1929 and the Greek Revival portico was added.

In 1962, ties were severed between the Alpha Chi Chapter and the national Phi Gamma Delta organization. Chapter members formed a local organization, Phi Gamma Chi, which continued to exist as a fraternity on the campus.  The chapter’s library was called the Calvin Coolidge Library and the chapter felt a kinship to President Coolidge, according to a Phi Gamma Chi member. Amherst College abolished all fraternities in 1984. Today, the building is known as the Marsh House. It was named for Eli Marsh, a Professor of Physical Education and member of Phi Gamma Delta.

 

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