The Oath of the Office Room

The Oath of Office Room in the Coolidge Homestead

Here occurred an event unique in American history. At 2:47 a.m. on the morning of August 3, 1923, Vice President Coolidge took the presidential oath of office administered by his father. The President related the circumstances of that ceremony in his autobiography:

"On the night of August 2, 1923, I was awakened by my father coming up the stairs calling my name. I noticed that his voice trembled. As the only times I had ever observed that before were when death had visited our family, I knew that something of the gravest nature had occurred...

He placed in my hands an official report and told me that President Harding had just passed away. My wife and I at once dressed.

Before leaving the room I knelt down and, with the same prayer with which I have since approached the altar of the church, asked God to bless the American people and give me power to serve them.

My first thought was to express my sympathy for those who had been bereaved...

Meantime, I had been examining the Constitution to determine what might be necessary for qualifying by taking the oath of office. It is not clear that any additional oath is required beyond what is taken by the Vice President when he is sworn into office. It is the same form as that taken by the President.

Having found this form in the Constitution I had it set up on the typewriter and the oath was administered by my father in his capacity as a notary public, an office he had held for a great many years.

The oath was taken in what we always called the sitting room by the light of the kerosene lamp, which was the most modern form of lighting that had then reached the neighborhood. The Bible which had belonged to my mother lay on the table at my hand. It was not officially used, as it is not the practice in Vermont or Massachusetts to use a Bible in connection with the administration of an oath.

Besides my father and myself, there were present my wife, Senator Dale, who happened to be stopping a few miles away, my stenographer, and my chauffeur.

...Where succession to the highest office in the land is by inheritance or appointment, no doubt there have been kings who have participated in the induction of their sons into their office, but in republics where the succession comes by an election I do not know of any other case in history where a father has administered to his son the qualifying oath of office which made him the chief magistrate of a nation. It seemed a simple and natural thing to do at the time, but I can now realize something of the dramatic force of the event."

The door to the left is the one Colonel John opened to call up to his son on that historic night. The photograph on the wall is of the Vermont Senate, taken in 1910 when Colonel Coolidge served as State Senator from Windsor County.

The next door leads to the kitchen. On the wall between this door and the door to the front porch is a picture of Victoria Josephine Moor, the President’s mother. Before her marriage to Colonel John Coolidge, Victoria lived with her parents, Hiram and Abigail Moor, in what is now called the Wilder House. Her father was postmaster in 1872, and her brother, Franklin, was a partner in the general store with Colonel John. Franklin bought the Colonel’s share of the store business the following year.

Calvin Coolidge wrote about his mother:

"She was practically an invalid ever after I could remember her, but used what strength she had in lavish care upon me and my sister, who was three years younger. There was a touch of mysticism and poetry in her nature which made her love to gaze at the purple sunsets and watch the evening stars.

Whatever was grand and beautiful in form and color attracted her. It seemed as though the rich green tints of the foliage and the blossoms of the flowers came for her in the springtime, and in the autumn it was for her that the mountain sides were struck with crimson and with gold.

When she knew that her end was near she called us children to her bedside, where we knelt down to receive her final parting blessing.

In an hour she was gone. It was her thirty-ninth birthday. I was twelve years old. We laid her away in the blustering snows of March. The greatest grief that can come to a boy came to me. Life was never to seem the same again."

Words such as these reveal the touch of the poet in Calvin Coolidge.

His mother died in this room, as did his sister in 1890 and father in 1926.

The desk was Colonel John’s. Here are his ink well and pen holder, a small glue pot, letter opener, and seal of Notary Public of Vermont. Presumably, this was the seal used to stamp the papers of the oath of office on the morning of August 3, 1923.

On the wall hangs a printed sentiment to "Mother." Above this is a photograph of the President’s mother.

The painted table near the bay window matches the furnishings from the President’s bedroom. Colonel Coolidge was often photographed seated at this table listening to his son’s numerous radio broadcasts.

The oath of office ceremony took place around the table in the center of the room. On the table are the kerosene lamp, the Coolidge family Bible, and the pearl-handled pen used for the ceremony.

On the wall to the right is a photograph of Calvin Coolidge when he was Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. It is draped with the Massachusetts state flag that was flown on his automobile. A hand-woven woolen shawl is at the front of the couch; another is on the back of one of the chairs.

The double doors lead to the parlor. Above them is a panoramic photograph of Plymouth Notch.

In the right corner of the room is a collection of family photographs. The two boys are the President’s sons, Calvin Jr. and John, taken when they were about 14 and 16 years of age. On the marble shelf is a picture of Calvin Jr., who died while his father was in the White House. To the right is a photo of Mrs. Calvin Coolidge and the two boys. Above is a framed picture of Abigail Coolidge, the President’s sister.

To the extreme right is a photograph of the Aldrich House, where Carrie Brown, Colonel John’s second wife, lived as a girl. The miscellaneous items in the cupboard were always kept here. The mittens were knitted by the President’s mother.

Stepping out again on the porch, you can see the gray farmhouse of Calvin Galusha Coolidge, the President’s grandfather. The President was often photographed on this farm. The house was built around 1815 by the President’s great-great-grandfather, Captain John Coolidge. Captain Coolidge was a soldier in the American Revolution and used his mustering out pay to purchase land in Plymouth. He settled here in the 1780's and was one of the town’s first selectmen. The farm is still owned by the Coolidge family.

The main section of the white house on the knoll was originally built for Calvin Coolidge in 1931 as an addition to the west end of the Homestead. Having the modern conveniences of electricity and plumbing, this addition was removed when the Homestead was donated to the State of Vermont is 1956.