First Ladies: Lou Henry Hoover

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Lou Henry Hoover was the wife of President Herbert Hoover and First Lady during the Great Depression.

Lou Hoover and children

Louise “Lou” Henry was born on March 29, 1874 in Waterloo, Iwa. She was the daughter of Charles Delano and Florence Ida Weed Henry. She grew up camping with her father, learning to hunt, learning taxidermy, interested in rocks, minerals and minig, and as a horsewoman.

She graduated with teaching credentials from San Jose Normal School. In 1894, she graduated from Stanford University, the only female geology major at the time.

While at Standford, she met Herbert Hoover in the geology laboratory.

The couple married at her parents home in California on February 10, 1899. She was very much her husband’s partner in everything he did.

The day after their marriage, the Hoovers sailed from San Francisco for Shanghai, China, where they soon set up a house. Both of the Hoovers were present at the Boxer Rebellion in 1899 and 1901.

Marrying her geologist and mining engineer husband in 1899, she traveled widely with him, including to Shanghai, China, and became a cultivated scholar and linguist. A proficient Chinese speaker, she is the only First Lady to have spoken an Asian language. In the White House, at times, the Hoovers would converse in Chinese to foil eavesdroppers.

Lou Hoover

In August 1900, the moved to London, England where her husband worked for an international mining outfit.

Lou had their first son Herbert Charles Hoover in 1903 London, England. Their second son, Allan Henry Hoover was born in 1907 London, England.

The couple returned to California by 1914 to live. “The Lou Henry Hoover House, which she designed and where the Hoovers lived, in Palo Alto’s foothills is now the official residence of the President of Stanford University. It is designated a National Historic Landmark.”

Lou Hoover was active in a variety of movements and organizations both in the United States and around the world.

In 1917, she moved to Washington, DC when her husband went to work in President Woodrow Wilson‘s cabinet. There, as volunteer head of the Administration’s Women’s Committee, Lou Hoover assumed her first major high-profile role in the United States.

Lou Hoover

During World War I, she assisted her husband in providing relief for Belgian refugees. For her work she was decorated in 1919 by King Albert I of Belgium.

“Lou served as the national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA from 1922 to 1925 while Hoover served in the cabinet of Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. She served as president again after leaving the White House, from 1935 to 1937.” She funded the construction of the first Girl Scout house in Palo Alto, California. The oldest Girl Scout house in continuous use, it is now called Lou Henry Hoover Girl Scout House.

On March 4, 1929, her husband became president and she became First Lady.

She oversaw construction of the presidential retreat at Rapidan Camp in Madison County, Virginia. This was the first presidential retreat.

She was in favor of prohibition and ordered a case of whiskey and poured it down the drain as a symbolic gesture.

She paid with her own money for restoration projects in the White House and to stage social events. She tracked down and gathered furniture that had belonged to Abraham Lincoln. She set up the Lincoln Study, which President Truman transformed into the Lincoln bedroom.

Lou Hoover paired the full-length portraits of George and Martha Washington together in the East Room, a placement which has remained since then.

Lou Hoover

She did more to restore the White House than anyone until the time of Jacqueline Kennedy.

She worked in the flower gardens of the White House, and walked her Elkhound and German shepherd dogs on the property.

She was the first First Lady to make regular nationwide radio broadcasts. Mrs. Hoover distinguished herself by becoming the first First Lady to broadcast on a regular and nationwide basis as a guest speaker on various shows. Mrs. Hoover took her “talkie voice” seriously enough that she had a recording system set up in the White House enabling her to replay her recordings and test the pitch, tone and pacing of her voice.

With a great interest in the popular films of her era, Lou Hoover had equipment placed in the oval room of the family quarters to screen sound motion pictures for her guests, the equipment and installation donated by a Hollywood studio.

As First Lady, she discontinued the New Year’s Day reception, the annual open house observance begun by Abigail Adams in 1801.

Lou Hoover died on January 7, 1944 in New York City from a heart attack. She was 69 years old. She was originally buried in Palo Alto, California.

Her husband would outlive her by another 20 years. After his death she was re-interred next to him in West Branch, Iowa.



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