Calvin Coolidge and Kappa Alpha Psi Share January 5th

Two days after her 54th birthday, Grace Goodhue Coolidge became a widow. The 30th President died suddenly on the morning of January 5, 1933.

Calvin Coolidge was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta chapter at Amherst College. His wife was a charter member of the Pi Beta Phi chapter at the University of Vermont. Together, they were the first President and First Lady who were initiated into Greek-letter organizations as college students.

After leaving the White House in 1929, Calvin and Grace Coolidge returned to the duplex they rented at 21 Massasoit Street in Northampton, Massachusetts. They moved into it after their October 1, 1905 wedding and prior to the September 7, 1906 birth of their son John.  While it was a fine home for a Northampton lawyer, and even for Mayor Coolidge, it was not a suitable for a former president. The Coolidges needed a place with more  privacy to keep away the gawkers and celebrity seekers in the days before Secret Service protection for former presidents.

In May 1930, they purchased “The Beeches,” a secluded 13-room home set on six acres. They also spent time at the Coolidge family homestead in Plymouth, Vermont.  In a Round Robin letter to her Pi Phi friends dated September, 1931, written from Vermont, she wrote, “As he grows older I think he will turn more and more to these peaceful hills. It is in the Coolidge blood and I think you will all agree that where he leads I follow.” 

On the morning of January 5, 1933, the 60-year-old President left for his office at 25 Main Street in Northampton. The chauffeur brought the President and his secretary, Harry Ross, back to the house a short time later. The January 6, 1933 New York Times gave details of the President’s death. In the article,  Ross recounted the morning’s events:

We drove out to The Beeches, and went into his study on the ground floor. Mrs. Coolidge was getting ready to go downtown for her regular morning shopping. She came into the study and chatted with us awhile. As she got up to go out the door without calling the car, Mr. Coolidge said: ‘Don’t you want the car?’ 

‘No,’ she replied, ‘It’s such a nice day, I’d rather walk than ride.’ These were their last words together.

When the First Lady returned from her trip to town, she went upstairs to call her husband to lunch. That is when she found him dead on the floor.

The Times article told of the funeral arrangements: 

In keeping with the simplicity of Mr. Coolidge’s nature and his life, Mrs. Coolidge decided that her husband would have preferred, if had been able to express his opinion, funeral services of the utmost simplicity. Such will be their nature. 

Instead of having the body taken to Washington or to Boston, to lie in state in places where he exercised the power of government as President of the United States and previously as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mrs. Coolidge ordered that her husband’s body remain in his home in this city, where he lived before and after his Presidential career. 

The funeral services took place at the Edwards Congregational Church on Main Street, where the Coolidges were faithful members. The President was buried in the family plot in the small cemetery in Plymouth, Vermont. 

cal cool grave

Phi Gamma Delta refers to deceased brothers as being “Ad Astra.” It means “to the stars.” According to Towner Blackstock, Phi Gamma Delta’s Curator of Archives, the full saying is “Fratres qui fuerunt sed nunc ad astra” (Brothers who were, but are now with the stars).  This wonderful image of my favorite Phi Gam was on the twitter feed yesterday. It’s worth sharing. 

It’s what you need… Coming Soon – Fiji Academy 2016

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Happy Founders’ Day to Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.. It was founded on January 5, 1911 by ten students at Indiana University. It was originally called Kappa Alpha Nu. At the Grand Chapter meeting of December 1914, a resolution was adopted and the name of the fraternity was changed to Kappa Alpha Psi. The change became effective April 15, 1915. 


Kappa Alpha Psi’s founders are: Elder Watson Diggs; John Milton Lee; Byron Kenneth Armstrong;Guy Levis Grant; Ezra Dee Alexander; Henry Tourner Asher; Marcus Peter Blakemore; Paul Waymond Caine; Edward Giles Irvin; and George Wesley Edmonds.

Elder Watson Diggs

Elder Watson Diggs as a young man.


Elder Watson Diggs later in life.

According to the organization’s website:

From its inception, and for the next six years, Brother Diggs served as the Grand Polemarch of KAPPA ALPHA PSI Fraternity. Through his leadership and indefatigable application, augmented by the efforts of B.K. Armstrong, and John M. Lee, who comprised the remainder of the original Grand Board of Directors, the infant Fraternity was guided through the most perilous years of its life. Accordingly, much of the credit for the organization’s survival through this period is shared by these three men.”

© Fran Becque,, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest



This entry was posted in Amherst College, Grace Coolidge, Indiana University, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Gamma Delta, Pi Beta Phi, Presidents, University of Vermont and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.