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Lou Henry Hoover

The First, First Lady from Iowa

Lou Henry Hoover

What are your dreams? Would you like to travel the world, live in the White House, write books, or be an honorary leader of all the Girl Scouts of America? Well, one famous woman had all of these adventures and more during her lifetime.

Her name was Lou Henry. How did she happen to have what seems to be a boy's name? Her father had wanted a boy and that's how it came to be. Lou's father, Charles Henry, was a banker in Waterloo, Iowa where his daughter was born in 1874. Lou, her younger sister, Jean, and Mr. Henry could be seen around town hiking, riding horses, skating, and camping. Mr. Henry made sure his daughters knew about the outdoors, while Lou's mother, Florence, made sure that her daughters knew about responsibilities around the house like sewing, music, and art. Lou was lucky to have parents who helped her discover much about the world and her future.

Later, the family moved and settled in Whittier, California and then went on to Monterey. Lou planned to be a teacher and attended San Jose Normal School, but teaching was not the best match for Lou. Then, in 1894 something happened that changed Lou Henry's life forever. During that summer she heard Professor John Casper Branner of Stanford University speak about "The Bones of the Earth". That was it! She convinced her parents that she should become a geology student at Stanford University. It was the life for her! Being the only girl in geology didn't seem unusual to her. While going to college, she met Herbert Hoover, a young Quaker geology student. They became friends and discovered they had both been born in the same year. They were also both born in Iowa only 100 miles apart!

Lou Henry married Herbert Hoover on February 10, 1899. The next day they sailed to China where Mr. Hoover would become a mining engineer. What adventures they had! Lou helped her husband by mapping the parts of China he would visit, researching mining laws, assisting with reports, and visiting mines. Her college degree in geology was put to good use. When the Boxer Rebellion erupted, Mrs. Hoover, true to her style, remained courageous and stayed to help.

As Mrs. Hoover traveled the world with her husband on steamers, tugboats, trains, cars, buggies, and horses, she was Herbert's helpmate. Two boys, Herbert Jr. in 1903, and Allen Henry in 1907, were born to the Hoovers. The children traveled on ships with their parents. One of the sons had traveled around the world three times by the time he was four years old.

When the Hoovers moved to England, Mrs. Hoover continued to be a leader who helped many stranded Americans return home at the beginning of World War I. Lou was able to see a problem and help solve it. She made a house a "home" wherever they lived. She also found time to help her husband translate a mining book from Latin into English.

In 1921 the family moved to Washington, D.C. when Mr. Hoover became Secretary of Commerce. The rest of the Hoovers' lives would be built around public service. In March of 1929 Mr. Hoover became President of the United States and Mrs. Hoover became the First Lady .

Mrs. Hoover made the White House come alive. She used some of her own money to have special furniture made for the Monroe room. Famous musicians were asked to give recitals. Being the First Lady was not always pleasant because of the many problems in the United States due to the Great Depression. The Hoovers only lived in the White House for four years.

Mrs. Hoover worked very closely with the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. after 1917 and served as its president. Her lifelong love of the outdoors, both as a child and adult, meant that she always had done activities just like a Girl Scout. She was also the leader of one scout troop in Washington, D. C. It was named "Troop 8" and she helped its members fulfill many goals.

After leaving the White House, Mr. and Mrs. Hoover spent time at their homes in Palo Alto in California and in New York City. Mrs. Hoover continued to enjoy her family, including three grandchildren, and friends. She still was a friend of the Girl Scouts. Mrs. Hoover died in 1944 at her Waldorf Astoria home in New York City.

What made Lou Henry Hoover special? She was a person who was the first to do things that were important. People said she was wonderful at conversation because she knew how to listen. She learned from others and had an inquisitive mind throughout her life. She liked to take pictures with her Brownie camera and was always trying new camera technology. She even began using a movie camera. After planning for and seeing that Camp Rapidan was built as a weekend retreat, she made that community her home away from home. Later the camp was given to the United States. When the Hoovers found out there was no school for the local children, they provided both a school and teacher.

Lou Henry Hoover was in a quiet way a woman before her time. She was adventurous throughout her life. She was a humanitarian who truly liked others and wanted to be of help. She helped her husband feed others whose lives were upset because of war. As First Lady, Lou Hoover wasn't just a hostess, wife, and mother, but also was a spokeswoman and a very involved helpmate to the president. The Hoovers were equals and partners. She was an early leader of women.

And so we end the story of Lou Henry Hoover.


Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
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