Celebrating the life of Lou Henry Hoover

The Hoovers
Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover (Hoover Institution Archives)

The Hoover Institution, which is celebrating its centennial this year, recently posted a tribute to LOU HENRY HOOVER, who many know only as the First Lady of President Herbert Hoover. But Lou Henry Hoover was a force in her own right as a geology scholar and philanthropist. Friday, March 29, would have been her 145th birthday.

Born in Iowa, Hoover graduated from Stanford in 1898. She was the first woman at Stanford and possibly in America to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in geology. At Stanford, she met her future husband, HERBERT HOOVER, in a geology lab, and they were married a few months after her graduation.

The day after the wedding, they moved to China, where Herbert Hoover took a position as a mining engineer. They settled in Tianjin. While in China, Lou studied Mandarin. In January 1900, they lived through the Siege of Tianjin during the violent Boxer Rebellion.

The Hoovers moved in 1901 to London, where they were living when World War I broke out. There she helped establish the American Women’s War Relief Fund and the American Women’s Hospital. The Hoovers saw firsthand the horrors of war. While Herbert organized relief for the entire civilian population of Belgium and Northern France, she facilitated his work. In London, she also gave birth to their two sons, Herbert Charles Hoover Jr. and Allan Henry Hoover.

Moving back to the United States in 1917 after her husband was appointed U.S. secretary of commerce, she became vice president of the National Amateur Athletic Federation in 1922 and president of that organization’s Women’s Division in 1923. She also founded the National Women’s Conference on Law Enforcement in 1924. Having been recruited to the Girl Scouts of America by its founder, Juliette Low, in 1917, she served in various positions throughout her life: troop leader, member of the Girl Scouts Council in Washington and twice the organization’s president. She continued to be an activist throughout her life. During World War II, she spearheaded efforts to gather clothing for refugees as chair of the Western Women’s Committee in New York.

Lou Henry Hoover died unexpectedly of a heart attack on January 7, 1944. Then Stanford President RAY LYMAN WILBUR presided over her memorial service in California and said:

Our country was built from almost nothing to its present state by American women as much as by American men. … Lou Henry Hoover was such a woman. … Lou Henry Hoover could deal as understandingly and sympathetically with a gardener as with the head of a world conference. Her mind was scientific, her mental discipline excellent. … She was just as interested in the smallest Girl Scout as in the biggest economic or political person. A fine book, a good painting, a lovely concert, a good speech, a rare geological specimen, a research project always held her attention.

In his memoir The Crusade Years, Herbert Hoover recounted going through his wife’s meticulously documented finances after her death and discovering that she had spent almost the entirety of her fortune on donations and charitable gifts to friends, students and people in need.

Read more on the Hoover Institution website.