A Letter from a King
One of the most interesting documents at the Hoover Library is a handwritten, five-page personal letter from King Albert of Belgium to Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. A transcript of the entire letter can be found at http://www.ecommcode.com/hoover/hooveronline/HooverCRB/transcripts/A3_kingalbert.html
King Albert wrote to ask Hoover to intervene with the U.S. Shipping Board on behalf of a private Belgian shipping company, Lloyd Royal Belge. At the end of World War I, Lloyd Royal Belge had purchased 22 merchant ships from the U.S. Shipping Board in a risky gamble to rebuild Belgium's merchant fleet. Due to the economic downturn in 1920 and 1921, Lloyd Royal Belge struggled to stay in business; the company, and the king, were hoping that the U.S. Shipping Board would restructure the payments or even forgive part of the debt.
As Secretary of Commerce, Hoover had no authority over the U.S. Shipping Board. Hoover's response to the king indicates that he did take the matter up with the Board, but that they were busy with bigger problems. Apparently, the Board made no concessions to the Belgians, and Lloyd Royal Belge suffered considerable financial losses in 1921. The Belgian government and a consortium of banks propped up the company, enabling them to make the final payments on 20 of the 22 ships, however, Lloyd Royal Belge refused to pay for two of the ships that had been received in very poor condition - in fact, one sank before it ever arrived in Belgium! The outcome of the dispute is unknown, but Lloyd Royal Belge continued to struggle, and was taken over in 1930 by its competitor, Compagnie Maritime Belge.
Child Health Day
The 1928 Child Health Day festival book -- 80 pages of suggestions for planning a local Child Health Day event.
During and after World War I, Herbert Hoover led two great humanitarian organizations, the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the American Relief Administration. Of special concern to both organizations was the plight of children in war-ravaged Europe, and under Hoover's direction over 15 million children received food, clothing, and other assistance. Hoover realized that the needs of children, both in Europe and America, were not being met, but more importantly, were not well understood. Most aspects of nutrition, child development and infant mortality were poorly documented and inadequately publicized.
Back in the United States health care reformers were coming to similar conclusions. In 1920, Hoover was asked to lead the American Child Hygiene Association, one of numerous small charitable organizations throughout the country dedicated to child health issues. Dismayed by the fragmented efforts, Hoover orchestrated the merger of the American Child Hygiene Association with another group, the Child Health Organization of America. The combined organization was called the American Child Health Association, and under Hoover's leadership it undertook a nationwide campaign to improve child health.
One of the first major programs of the ACHA was a widely-publicized national survey of health conditions in 86 mid-sized cities. (Larger cities had already been surveyed by the Department of Labor.) The survey revealed that 41 cities had no full-time health official, that half of the cities had no reliable child birth/mortality records, that vaccinations were not required in 37 cities, that pasteurization of the milk supply was required in only 8 cities, and that there was no health instruction in 21 cities. The publication of these results shocked the nation and stirred up demand for improvements. Hoover later proudly recalled that "our published plan for ideal community organization became a bible for many a belligerent mother's society."
To generate more publicity, the ACHA sought to transform May Day into Child Health Day. Beginning in 1924, newspapers and magazines were deluged with articles about child health to be published on May Day. Health officials at the state and local level used the heightened publicity to bring attention to the ongoing problems and recent successes in their local communities. Schools, churches and other civic organizations held pageants, parades, plays and other events to raise awareness and to educate parents and children about good health.
Child Health Day activities around the country, 1927.
Three years later, Child Health Day was celebrated in every state and the territory of Hawaii. One reporter insisted that "The publicity given to [Child Health Day] was second only to...such events as the Dempsey-Tunney fight, the Lindberg flight, and the World Series." Child Health Day became a permanent Federal holiday in 1929, though it was moved to the first Monday in October beginning in 1959. To this day, the President makes an annual proclamation of Child Health Day.
The President's Conference on Unemployment - 1921
When President Harding was inaugurated in 1921, a sharp recession was underway that had begun the year before. By mid-1921, some five million people were out of work - perhaps 12% of the workforce. Concerns arose about the possibility of widespread hardship through the coming winter, and it was Harding's Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, who suggested that a national conference was necessary to address the problem.
On August 12, 1921, Hoover sent a letter to President Harding proposing a national conference on the unemployment crisis. After Harding endorsed the idea, Hoover assembled an Economic Advisory Committee that prepared a preliminary report and recommendations for the conference. The President's Conference on Unemployment convened September 26, 1921. After opening speeches by Harding and Hoover urging voluntary, cooperative solutions and warning that Federal funds were off limits, the Conference divided into ten subcommittees and began their work.
Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, the subcommittees essentially rubber-stamped Hoover's recommendations. The final report of the Conference called for local Emergency Committees that would encourage and coordinate hiring by private businesses, and asked private businesses, and state and local governments to move forward any planned construction projects in order to generate short term jobs. The long-term recommendation of the Conference was to use public works projects to dampen the extremes of unemployment: during good times, state and local governments (the Federal government spent very little on public works at that time) could stockpile projects for implementation during economic downturns to reduce unemployment.
At the end of the Conference, Hoover created a Bureau of Unemployment in the Department of Commerce, which sent forth a deluge of reports, publications and press releases promoting the recommendations of the Conference. Local committees sprang up around the country, and businesses and government authorities dutifully scraped together funds to start new construction projects. As the winter approached, unemployment began to decline, rather than increase as would have been expected due to seasonal layoffs. Local charities were able to assist those who remained in need. The next spring, the economy was on the rebound, and Hoover declared the Unemployment Conference a complete success. Eight years later, after the 1929 stock market crash, President Hoover's economic policies were based on the lessons learned in 1921.
Cartoon by William Morris, November 1921.