The Coolidge family’s beautiful white collies, Prudence Prim and Rob Roy, were a striking pair.
Following on the heels of her predecessor, Florence “Flossie” Harding, First Lady Grace Coolidge enjoyed the new idea of White House photo opportunities, and she often posed with one or both of her collies.
A fan of animals of all sorts — including a raccoon named Rebecca — Mrs. Coolidge had a particular fondness for Prudence Prim. The feeling was mutual. The dog, about 1 year old when she arrived at the White House in October 1925, demonstrated her endless patience by enduring a straw bonnet decorated with ferns and ribbons tied onto her head for a White House garden party.
The First Lady even had calling cards designed that featured Prudence Prim. When she made a visit, she would leave her own card and the dog’s card behind.
“We always had more dogs than we could take care of,” President Coolidge wrote in his autobiography. “My favorites were the white collies, which became so much associated with me that they are enshrined in my bookplate, where they will live as long as our country endures.”
A “Best Friend and Confidant”
Prudence Prim was purchased from breeders Thomas and Olive Shover of Shomont White Collies in Monticello, Iowa. Here’s an advertisement for Shomont from 1926:
Justin Shover, grandson of these famous breeders, tells the Presidential Pet Museum that Prudence Prim was probably the Coolidges’ favorite of all their many pets. “I have numerous photos that the president sent my grandparents in correspondence letters praising Prudence Prim, and speaking of their great admiration for her,” said Shover.
“Prudence Prim was Grace’s best friend and confidant,” Shover said. “The morning routine for the Coolidges included Prudence bounding in the room, finding her chair, and sharing the president’s cereal while most of a roll and bacon strip went to Rob Roy.”
After humorist Will Rogers visited the White House, he later remarked: “At one time it looked to me like the dogs was getting more [food] than I was. I come pretty near getting down on my all fours and barking to see if business wouldn’t pick up with me.”
According to one account from 1926, “The President is not greatly concerned about the ‘discipline’ of his dog[s]. He holds that there is not much sense in having a dog unless you make a friend of it.”
Whistling for the Dogs
According to an account by Ike Hoover, an usher at the White House, the Coolidges used whistles to summon the dogs. Although the First Lady could whistle well, the president usually used a tin whistle.
When he did not have the whistle with him one evening, President Coolidge sputtered at trying to whistle on his own.
“What’s the matter, Poppa?” the First Lady asked. “Don’t your teeth fit tonight?”
“A Common Sorrow”
When Prudence Prim died during the First Family’s June–September 1927 summer trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, Grace Coolidge wrote in a letter: “Rob [Roy] and I shared a common sorrow.”
In his autobiography, President Coolidge mentions the prized dog’s death: “We lost her in the Black Hills,” Coolidge wrote. “She lies out there in the shadow of Bear Butte where the Indians told me the Great Spirit came to commune with his children.”
(The Coolidges had brought along both Prudence Prim and Rob Roy — as well as another dog, Blackberry, plus the First Lady’s cherished pet raccoon — on their extended, cross-country summer vacation.)
Grace Coolidge later penned her feelings about animals in general. “I am unable to understand how anyone can get along without some sort of pet.”