Carrie was born in Plymouth, VT, on January 22, 1857. She was known in her town as “… one of the brightest and most talented children … she took a strong interest in the great books and music of her time.” She arrived at KUA in the fall of 1879 and studied, among other subjects, geometry, meteorology, botany, French, Psychology and moral Science. Carrie graduated as Salutatorian of her class and gave the opening commencement speech, Light your Own Torch.
After graduation, Carrie went back to Vermont and taught school in Plymouth, Chester, and Bellows Falls and eventually became superintendent of the Plymouth schools. Teaching, however much they may have desired to do so, regardless of their inclination, was the main life-choice available to so many of KUA’s women graduates of the 19th century. For Carrie, her life changed forever when, at the age of 34, she married Colonel John Coolidge, a widower, and became the beloved stepmother of his son Calvin who was 19 and studying at Amherst College.
She moved into the Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth Notch to take over her new duties of wife and mother. Many years later when Calvin had become President Coolidge, he wrote the following in his autobiography about his stepmother, “My absence from home during my freshman year was more easy for me to bear because I was no longer leaving my father alone. Just before the opening of college he had married Miss Carrie A. Brown, who was one of the finest women of our neighborhood. I had known her all my life. After being without a mother nearly seven years I was greatly pleased to find in her all the motherly devotion that she could have given me if I had been her own son. She was a graduate of Kimball Union Academy and had taught school for some years. Loving books and music she was not only a mother to me but a teacher. For thirty years she watched over me and loved me, welcoming me when I went home, writing me often when I was away, and encouraging me in all my efforts. When at last she sank to rest she had seen me made Governor of Massachusetts and knew I was being considered for the Presidency.”
Throughout her life, Carrie remained interested in the children of Plymouth; she taught Sunday school and helped children create and perform plays for the community. She entertained them all in the Coolidge Homestead “ … with piano performances and a plate of cookies and milk.” In 1903 Carrie became the first woman postmaster in Plymouth Notch, VT, and remained at her post until 1917.
Carrie died on May 18, 1920, and was buried in the Plymouth Cemetery that, at that time, held seven generations of the Coolidge Family including, eventually, the President. When questioned about his choice of such plain surroundings for a President’s gravesite, Coolidge commented, “We draw our Presidents from the people…I came from them. I wish to be one of them again.”
The Carrie Brown Coolidge Garden is located at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, the birthplace and childhood home of Calvin Coolidge. The garden is maintained and contains some of the original perennials planted by her
Next time: Herbert E. Ward, class of 1881