Lou Henry Hoover (1874-1944)

Figure 1.--Here we see Mrs. Hoover in 1930 greeting children on May Day in 1930. The two boys wear white short pants with white ankle socks and summer-style shoes--either entirely white or two-tone black and white. The boy on the left wears a button-on sailor style suit. The short trousers button on to the shirt waist. The other boy wears a shirt that comes over his belt and is separate from the trousers. The children seem to be about 6 or 7 years old. I'm not sure just why Mrs. Hoover happened to be in New York City on May 1, 1930, but the scene is not the White House in Washington.

Lou Henry Hoover is not a First Ladt often mentioned, presumably because her husband was such a failed president. First Ladies rightly or wrongly are assessed in part as a part of their huband's presidency. And Hoover's efforts to deal with the Depression were wholely inadequate. Mrs. Hoover herself was quite an admirable person. She was in every way a partner to her husband. She worked with him in all his persuits, sharing his many interests. Lou Hoover had it not been for the Depression might have been considered one of the more notable First Ladies. She night be considered the first feminist First Lady for her work with the Girl Scouts and women's athletics. The Hoovers while acquiring the image as uncaring about the plight of the unemployed were in fact involved in charitable activities. What we do not understand about Mrs. Hoover is why she did not publically emerse herself in charitable work to help those adversely affected by the Depression. Was it that this work with the down trodden did not appeal to her or did her husband not want her to get involved. Of course this would have had little affect on the Depression, it might have affected the public perception of the Hoovers. It would have also incouraged more women to do the same. Here we just do not know. It seems particularly difficult to understand given their history of organizing relief progams diring and after World War I.


Her father was Charles D. Henry, a bank manager. Her mother was Florence Weed Henry was a school teacher. At the time, lady teachers commonly quit when they married. Charles loved the outdoors and was hoping that their first child was going to be a boy who he could take hunting, and fishing.



Lou was born in Waterloo, Iowa during 1874. Her sister Jean arrived 8 years later. Lou grew up in Waterloo for her first 10 years. Charles hdd grown up on a farm. He loved the outdoors and knew a great deal about nature, including flowers, trees, and rocks. He would take Lou on camping trips where they would investigate nature. Lou took in all her father had to teach her. They loved to identify the plants and rocks they encounteed. She would later look back on these trips with grrat affection. She loved outdoor persuits, somewhat unusual for girls at the time. She loved to not only camp, but also fish and hunt. She often fished in the Cedar River. The River provide not only a place to fish and swim in the summer, but a place to skate in the winter. Lou especilly loved sledding and skating. She was particularly known for the yellow and blue skating outfit her mother made her. She would go on hikes on the paths behind her home. Here she gathered hazelnuts. Her father showed her how to trap rabbits. She dabled in taxadermy, preserbing some specimens. As a result of her camping expeditions, she became interested in rocks, minerals, and mining. Lou was not only an outdoor girl, she enjoyed pretend tea parties with her girl friends. Other favorite activities were making scrapbooks. Girls also read to each other. Girls also loved parties, especially fancy dress parties. Lou and her best friend Anna Sweet organized a combined masquerade-birthday party for their friends, coincidentally their birth dates were very close. The neighborhood children played ante over and hide-and-seek. Lou's mother Floence didn't share her husbands interest in the outdoors. She was a homebody and loved to sew. She taught Lou and her friends how to sew. This enabled them to make little Christmas presents. While Lou enjoyed tea parties ad sewing with her girl friends, she liked best of all being outdoors. And here she often played with the boys. She played even organized baseball games, climbed trees in her front yard, and raced with the boys pigtails and all. All of this was not exactly what was expected of girls at the time. Prim and proper tea parties, learning music, and sewing was more the order of the day. Girls who liked olaying with boys were called tom-boys. Passed a certain age parents began to worry about this because girls at the time could only ebsure their future with a good marriage and domestic skills, not basebal were considered importat in finding the fight man.


Lou's father was concerned about his wife's health and decided that a change of climate might be beneficial. When the opportunity of managing a new bank in Whittier, California, Charles moved the family to southern California. California was known for its sunshine which he thoughtvwould be good her Florence. Like many young girls she loved horses. Her father could afford to give her advantages. She became an accomplished rider. She first learned learned to ride bareback on her uncle's a huge farm horse. Proper girls at the time were expected to ride side saddle so Lou of course learned that also. Lou loved california and she made many new friends. She continued playing baseball. I have not actual indormation, but suspect she was ften the only girl involved. Charles moved the family again. This time to Monterey. He opened another bank, this tome becoming a partner. Monterey is a beautiful place and Lou enjoyed riding her horse on the many senic paths.


I do not know much about her schooling. I do note that she played Joan of Arc in the Bailey Street School play. Lou enrolled at the Los Angeles Normal School (September 1891). At the time teaching were one of the few careers open tonyoung women. While there she Agassiz Club. The members liked to collected items to build the school museum. A favorite was unique live pets. She transferred to San Jose Normal School closer to home (1892). It was there she received her teaching degree. She was prepared to be a teacher. Her mother taught school before she married. She discussed here career with her father. It was at this time that she attended a lecture on geology by Professor J.C. Branner at the newly founded Stanford University. She was fascinated. She spole with Dr. Branner asking if a woman could be admitted to study geology. Surprisingly he incouraged her. She became the first woman geology student at Stanford. She may have been the first female geology student in America. Lou entered Stanford (1894). It was not all that common for women to attend university at the time, let alone study geology. And of all things she studied geology--unheard of for women at the time. And that choice brought her in contact with a young Herbert Hoover.

Herbert Hoover

Lou and Herbert met in a geology lab. She arrived just in time. She was a freshman and he a senior. Stanford was a very new school at the time. Hoover was in the forst graduating class. He was immediately stuck with Lou, as he laterexplained, "by her whimsical mind, her blue eyes and a broad grinnish smile." The two also net socially. Dr. and Mrs. Branner hosted a dinner for the students. Lou and Herbert discovered that that they had a great deal to share. They both came from Iowa, they were geology majors, and loved to fish. They workedctogether on field studies. Hoover not only fell in loved with Lou, but realized that she was self-reliant enough to adapt to the often primitive living conditions of mining sites. Lou continued working on her degree after Herbert graduated. Hoover got a job with a British mining company. They sent him off to Australia.


Lou graduated with her geology degree (1899). She returned home to Monterey. While at home she received a cabled proposal from "Bert" Hoover. Hoover was traveling from Australia to his company's home office London and then to California. There was little time for the wedding because Hoover was wanted in China immideately. They married (February 10). There were no formal outfits like a bridal gpwn. Lou wore a practical brown traveling suits. Surprisingly Hoover had purchased an identical one for himself that he also wore to the weddng. Herbert Hoover was a Qauaker. Lou Henry was an Episcopalian. They were married by Roman Catholic Father Mestres who oficited at the Monterey Mission. Professor Thoburn who was to officiate, but he died a few weeks before the wedding. Lou happened to know Father Mestres because she had done substitute teaching at a schoolhouse next to the Mission. The wedding was followed by After a wedding luncheon the newly weds caught the 2:00 train to San Francisco. They sailed for China (February 11).


There was to be no honeymoon. As soon as they married, they left for China. It was not a propitious time for traveling to China. The used the time on the ship to study about China. Neither new any Chinese or aything about the country. Th Chinese Government had hired Hoover as Director General of the Department of Mines. China at the time was very backward. The country had done virtually nothing to develop its mineral resources. Herbert Hoover was hired to jump start Chinese mining. The Hoovers went to Tientsin. Lou did what she would in many future assignments, she set up a comfortable home. Lou was fascinated by China. Tientsin had been opened to foreigners as part of the 1860 Convention ending the Second Opium War. There were different sections of the city for various foreign countries. The city grew as Chinese attracted by the lively commerce and decent wages. The foreigners in Tientsin lived well, being able to afford aminities like servants, confortable homes, country clubs, ect. Lou not only explored Tientsin, but the countryside and Peking as well. She took a lively interest in Chinese art. She hired a tutor and learned Chinese. ou reported home on all this and asked for clothing that was hard to get in China as well as magazines and books. Both she and her husband were avid readers. China even before the Hoovers left California was undergoing the abti-foreign turmoil casused by the Boxers. The resulting Boxer Rebellion was a rejection of foreign interference. Boxer incidents occurred (June 1900). The Boxers wanted to drive the foreigners from China and kill the Chinese tainted by the foreigners. The Hoovers during the Boxer Rebellion were in Tientsin with about 800 foreigners. American, British, French, and Russian soldiers began patroling the streets. Civilians assisted the military, helping to patrol the foreign settlement at night. Lou had her turn on guard duty. She also volunteered to work in the hospital and pitched in to build defensive barricades. Her special duty was "Chief Cowboy and Dairy Maid." Lou was given charge of a small heard of cows and calves. She saw to the distribution of milk for children and the wounded. She continued riding her bike around Tientsin. Her front tire was once hit by bullets. Her father thought they had been killed. Lou sent a one word telegram "Safe." The Hoovers left China in August of 1900 when relief troops came.

Foreign Assignments

Hoover began making a name for himself as highly competent mining engineer and inspector. The Hoovers traveled the world for Bewick, Moreing and Company, They were given assignments in Australia, Burma, Ceylon, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Russia (Siberia), ,and various European countries. Hoover could share his work with his wife, but she was also an adept homemaker which helped to create comfortable living experiences in his many foreign assignments. Lou always went along. Both sons, Herbert and Allan, were born overseas. Herbert Jr. arrived in 1903. Lou and the baby was ready to travel 5 weeks later. He, a nurse, and his parents were off to Australia. Baby Herbert was set up in a traveling basket. By the time Herbert Jr. reached his first birtdy, he had been around the world twice.


The Hoovers had sailed from China to London. Lou began to otes and diaries in order to write up her experiences. She did produce a manuscript, but it was never published. She did publish a short article, "The Late Dowager Empress" in World Travelers. The Hoovers would travel to many different countries, none quite so exciting as their first Chinese experience. London became a kind of home base for their many adventures. They set up in a flat at 39 Hyde Park Gate. Lou found an old book in London, Agricola de re Metallica. This work had been published in 1556. At the time Latin was an international scholarly language. The Hoovers had fin translating it. She persued the interest she had acquired in China on porcelains, beginning a collection. She became quite knowledgeable abou the histories and manufacturing processes of Ming and early Ch'ing porcelain. The Hoovers bought a home on Hornton Street which would be their permanent London home. They called it the Red House and had a lovely garden bith the parents and boys enjoyed. It became their home base between foreign tips. Both Nlou and her husband loved the lively London theater. The Hoovers entertained at their London home, both English froends and traveling Americans. Their Sunday evening suppers necame famous. Lou was a gracious hotest.


Two sons, Herbert (1903- ) and Allan (1907- ), were born during their parents' adventurous life abroad. Both boys were birn in London. They werevnot allowed to disrupt their prents hectic schedule. Herbert Jr went on a trip to Australia at age 5 weeks. Allan was off to Burma ar age 6 weeks.

Consulting Firm

Hoover decided to leave Bewick Moreing and Co. to form a consulting firm (1908). He had made many contacts on his various assignments to pull this off. It was a success financially, making Hoover becoming a youthful millionaireat a time when a million dollars meant something. .

World War I Relief

Hoover was a successful engineer by the time that World War I erupted in Europe, but inknown to the Anerican public. This was to change. Hoover wrote that it was the War send the couple on, " the slippery road of public life." [Hoover, p.148.] The Hoovers after 15 years of frentic traveling were beginning to think about America. Herbert Jr. was 10 years old and and Allan 7 years and more British than American. Lou was preparing to travel to California to put the boys in an American school and begin work on their dream house. They had decided on a location with wonderful memories--San Juan Hill, adjacent to the Stanford campus. Before this project unfolded, World war I broke out in Europe (August 1914). Soon Americans from all over the continent began arriving in London. Some were in desperate shape, often without finds. Because of the War even well-todo Americans were haing difficulty getting access to their assetts. Hoover set out to sort out the finances and organize the transport home. Lou set to work to assist the stranded American women and children in London. She became the driving force behind the Society of American Women in London . They provided clothing, lodging, food, and even tours around London. Finally Lou with the boys joined the exodus to America (October 3). She enrolled the boys in a Palo Alto school. Soon after Hoover was appointed official Chairman of the Commission for Belgian Relief (October 22). Lou became an indespenible partner in this undertaking. She generated support for the effort, talked to women's about the plight of Belgian refugees. Lou organized the California branch of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. She helped raise the money to finance one of the first food ships sent to Belgium from California. She sailed back and forth to London, dividing her time between the boys and her husband. All this when the U-boats were sinking ships in the Atlantic. She was also president of the Society of American Women in London which was also involved in relief projects. Belgium was fanous for its lace and Lou helped sell Belgian lace to sustain the industry through the war and raise money for relief projects. All this was done as charity work before America entered the War. The United states declared war on Germany (April 1917). Hoover by this time had become well known in America. President Woodrow Wilson asked Hoover to necome America's Food Administrator. The Hoovers noved to Washington, D.C. Lou continued assistibg her husband. She helped sell the idea of food conservation go American housewives. One undertaking was wheatless and meatless days. "Food Will Win the War" became the agency's slogan. Hoover became known around the world for his work administering emergency relief programs. American relief saved millions of lives during and after the War. Hoover's efficient administrayion of the program, supported by Lou, played an important role in its success.

Girl Scouts

While in Washingtom during the war, Lou began taking an interest in the new Girl Scout movement. With her love of the outdoors and ton-boy girlhood, the movement appealed to her. She was asked to be a troop leader. Lou never got to be a teacher, but she liked working with young people and a movement involved with the outdoors was to much a temptation go pass up. She took ober Washington, D.C. Troop VIII. One of their first projects of course was a War Garden. She soon was appointede to the Washington, D.C. Girl Scout Council.


The Hoovers after spending two decdes living all over the world, finlly after the War thought they could settle down in California with their boys. Lou oversaw the construction of a home in Palo Alto while her husband was still in Europe working with the relief program. The design was all approved. One feature was lots of fireplaces, perhaps a result of her childhood camping. And there was a fireplace outside for toasting marshmallows and hot dogs.

Cabinent Officer's Wife (12921-19)

The Hoover's plans to settle down in California did not get very far. Hoover had made such a name for himself that President Hoover wanted him in his cabinent. He was appointed Secretary of Commerce. Lou thus spent 8 years in Washington as a cabinent officer's wife. This required maintaining an active social life. Lou Hoover was noted as a gracious host, an important assett for an aspiring American politican. She also continued her active role in the Girl Scouts, serving at every level of the organization, including the organization's president. She took up a new cause at this time--physical fitness. She must have recalled playing baseball with the boys as a child. Few other girls did this. Women got the vote in 1920 and opportunities while still restricted were beginning to open up in many fields. Sports and atletics for girls were expanding but still quite limited. Lou became active in the women's division of the National Amateur Athletic Federation.

First Lady (1929-33)

Hoover won an impressive victory in the 1932 election. Mrs Hoover was a dignified and accomplished First Lady. She dressed the part a look like the perfect First Lady on state occassions. Because of her experience as the wife of wealthy corporate engineer and then secretary of state, Mrs. Hoover knew how to entertain. She oversaw elegant social functions. Because of the Depression, the Hoovers began using their own money for these fubctions. She took a real interest in the White House. In part this reflected an interest in history and in part a continuation of her long established duties of creating a comfortable family home. She used her own money to reproduce furniture owned by President Monroe to recreate a period sitting room. She also restored Lincoln's study for the president. The Hoovers entertained elegantly, using their own private funds for social events while the country suffered worsening economic depression. As First Lady she was constantly in the public eye. She rarely gave speeches, and she did not grant interviews. She in fact developed a healthy caution concerning the press.One incident in particular caused her to be cautious. Some news papers criticised her for inviting Mrs. Oscar DePriest for tea. Mrs. DePriest was the wife of a black congressman from Chicago. The DePriest incident caused a great deal of press commetary. Some newspapers praised her while others were very critical. (The journalists critical of Mrs. Hoover, must have had apoplexy when Mrs. Roosevelt moved into the White House.) Few presidential couples had the bad luck of the Hoovers. When he was inagurated America was still prosperpus and growing (March 1929). Within a few months Wall Street crashed (October 1929). Hoover did not cause the Wall street cash. The policies he persued, however, intensified the Depression and he made no major attempt to alleviate the suffering of unemployed Americans or to prevent the looming bank crises. The Depression and the public's tendency to blame the President affected the public perception of Mrs Hoover as First Lady. This was not helped by her elegant social events, whether or not governments funds were used. What we do not understand about Mrs. Hoover is why she did not publically emerse herself in charitable work to help those adversely affected by the Depression. Was it that this work with the down trodden did not appeal to her or did her husband not want her to get involved. Of course this would have had little affect on the Depression, it might have affected the public perception of the Hoovers. It would have also incouraged more women to do the same. Here we just do not know. It seems particularly difficult to understand given their history of organizing relief progams diring and after World War I. The Hoovers were crushed by their loss to Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 election. Perhaps this is why they ended the New Year's Day tradition of greeting the public at a White House reception. They went on holiday.

Camp Rapidan

Begining in her childhood years, Lou Hoover always enjoyed getting away and persuing outdoors activities and adventures. This continued through the White House years. She decided that the President needed a retreat and she chose a location im the Blue Ridge Mountains. She called in Camp Rapidan because it was situated at the headwaters of the Rapidan. It became a place for informal entertaining and just plain relaxing. It was not an elaborate facility, byt rather a collection of cabins coonecting paths. Lou used it herself while ecovering from a back injury. At this time she was shicked to find out that there was no school for the children who lived in the neigboring mountain communites. The oovers financed The President's Community School and hired a teacher. This wentbunreported in the press. After the election defeat, the Hoovers domated the Camp to the Government. It was for a time referred to as Camp Hoover, but President Eisenhower renamed it Camp David after his grandson.


After leaving the White House, the Hooveres retired to their home in Palo Alto. They also maintained an apartment in New York. Mrs. Hoover passed away in New Yorl (January 7, 1944), years before her husband. President Hoover says that it was only at this time that he learned of the extent of his wife's charitable giving. She had helped finance the education of many boys and girls. He described her ideal for the position she had held: "a symbol of everything wholesome in American life."


Hoover, Herbert. The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover Vol. 1, Years of Adventure (1951).


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Created: 11:17 PM 11/25/2006
Last changed: 11:18 PM 11/25/2006