Bleeding Heart and Lily

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Hoover with First Lady Grace Coolidge at the Cedar Lodge - the summer camp of President Coolidge.

Lou Hoover with First Lady Grace Coolidge at the Cedar Lodge – the summer camp of President Coolidge.

The relationship between successive Presidents can sometimes be contentious regardless of political affiliation.  These relationships have been given due attention by historians.  The relationship between successive First Ladies has garnered far less attention, as historians have focused attention on First Ladies individually.

The relationship between Grace Coolidge and Lou Henry Hoover merits some attention.  Four folders of touching correspondence between the two First Ladies is extant in box 12 of the Lou Henry Hoover papers.  The correspondence began in 1923 as a cordial ‘arms-length’ friendship letters between two prominent Washington women.  Over time, the friendship between Grace and Lou deepened, and the letters grew more intimate.

By the time Lou Henry Hoover was First Lady, she and Grace were so close that they addressed each other with nicknames.  To Grace Coolidge Lou was Bleeding Heart. To Lou, Grace was Lily.  In the spring of 1930, the two exchanged hand-written Easter greetings.

Lou initiated the poetic exchange:

‘Oh my fairest Lily, I miss you so
Oh my fairest Lily, when the south winds flow.
When the towering needle points the blue,
When robins and starlings are calling for you.
When thro’ the magnolia the red birds dart,
Oh my fairest Lily, your Bleeding Heart.

The Easter Lily looks out at the rain [umbrellas and galoshes in the East window.]
Oh, my Easter Lily, I wish you were here! [What a pity it is, President’s wives aren’t twins].

[Truth was happier than rhymes in the last line.]’

Grace replied in poetic kind on Easter Sunday, 1930:

‘The Bleeding Heart and the Easter Lily
May not be twins by birth
But they’re closely akin
In love and devotion
And all other ties of Earth.’

Grace commented: “Thus as I attempt to reply in kind, dear Lady, adding my deep appreciation of your loving thoughts of me.”  She closed: ‘To you, my love—I have the honor to be, sincerely your friend, Grace Coolidge.’

This is just one of many civil, erudite exchanges between two uncommon First Ladies.

 

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