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Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Wayles Coolidge’

Happy, snowy President’s Day everyone. This weekend we avoided big box store sales and headed up the mountain to our very own Monticello. Even if we didn’t live here, I’d have to count Mr Jefferson as one of my very favorite presidents. His writing, his architecture, his grandchildren! We met cousins Anita and Skip for an author’s book launch lecture, “Jefferson’s Granddaughter in Victoria’s England,” by Ann Lucas Birle.

Ellen Wayles Coolidge was a favorite granddaughter. She was schooled alongside TJ at Monticello by her Mother in all the classics that young men would learn in the early 19th Century. Her retired Grandfather would hum Scottish tunes while he worked and always made time for little Ellen; calling to her, asking how many thousands of things she must have to talk to him about. She didn’t marry until she was 27, almost ancient for a bride at the time, and most likely because she was not only brilliant and charming, she was extremely witty. I imagine a young suitor may have been intimidated by her presence, along with the requisite entrance into the Great Hall in order to meet the President, her Grandfather. The not so young Mrs Coolidge managed to have 6 children in 5 years (there was a set of twins) and if ever there was a reason for contraception, Mr Santorum, just read some history!

If she lived today, she’d be a blogger! She wrote almost daily in her “fully indexed” travel diary from 1838 to 1839 and as a result, we can now read about her first trip to England. Ellen Coolidge’s health was failing after such rapid-fire childbirth, and so the trip was planned to restore her body, mind and spirit. Her writing is fiercely personal, but with lightening flashes of divine satire. It’s as if Edith Wharton met Jon Stewart. She writes of the Coronation, the Tower, of art and the great English writers she meets. And about Thomas Jefferson she says:

“My grandfather can never be a favorite of the few, being himself the friend of the many. There is a perpetual opposition between the rich and the poor which makes an advocate for the one always appear an opponent of the other; but this is temporary; posterity, although divided into the same classes, judges with less ‘esprit de corps’ the actions of past times and tardy justice is done….”

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