The President’s Mountain School

by Spencer Howard

When Hoover became President in 1929, he decided to build a weekend retreat – a fishing camp – some place where he could escape from Washington and unwind.  He chose a site on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia about 100 miles from Washington, where two small streams merge to form the Rapidan River.  The Hoovers purchased the land and materials, and a detachment of U.S. Marines were assigned to construct roads, utilities and buildings, and to guard the President when he visited.  Eventually, Camp Rapidan would consist of 13 rustic cabins and a separate camp for the Marines, but for the first summer, guests stayed in brown army tents pitched on temporary wooden platforms.  Almost every weekend through the summer and fall, the President would leave Washington as early as he could get away on Friday afternoon and stay at the camp until after breakfast on Monday morning, hurrying back to Washington to arrive in the Oval Office by mid-morning.

Each weekend the Hoovers invited family members, friends, Cabinet officers, members of Congress, and other guests out to the camp with them, along with a few White House staff members.  The White House doctor, Cdr. Joel Boone, accompanied the President most weekends and enjoyed horseback rides along the rough trails near the camp.  One day he met a boy who lived with his family in a nearby cabin, and struck up a conversation.  The boy’s name was Ray Buraker (pronounced BURR-uh-ker).  Upon learning of his neighbor, the President instructed Dr. Boone to encourage the boy to visit the camp by promising to pay $5.00 for a live possum, if Ray would deliver it in person.

On Hoover’s birthday, the young man visited the camp and brought a small possum along with him.  The President paid Ray the promised $5.00 (an extravagant sum for a boy who had little experience with money), and introduced Ray to some of the weekend guests, including Charles Lindbergh.  Both the President and the famous aviator were astounded to discover that Ray had never heard of Lindbergh’s record-setting flight.  Hoover also learned that the local children had no school nearby, so he and Mrs. Hoover decided to build one for them.

Mountain School at Camp Rapidan, VA

In consultation with local and state officials, the schoolhouse was built to serve as not just a school, but also a community center and residence for the teacher.  It had a large classroom, a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath for the teacher, and two spare bedrooms in the attic for guests, or if children couldn’t get home because of bad weather.  Mrs. Hoover personally hired the teacher; she chose a recent graduate of Berea College in Kentucky named Christine Vest, who had experience teaching in a similar setting.  The school received donations of books and supplies from all over the country, but the principal financial support came from the Hoovers.  Their contributions the first year totaled approximately $10,000, and by the time they left the White House in 1933, they had spent over $24,000 on the school.

The President’s Mountain School opened on February 24, 1930 with 17 children in attendance, including Ray Buraker and 5 of his siblings.  For many of the children, it was their first chance at a formal education.  In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, Miss Vest introduced them to the modern world beyond their remote mountain homes.  She taught them about cities, and the commerce and industry found there.  They learned about units of measurement, time and money, and how to order goods from the Sears catalog.  Some of the girls learned to make or repair clothing with an electric sewing machine.  Miss Vest took the students on field trips to the county fair, and even to Washington DC where they had lunch at the White House.  For most of the children, it was the first time they had traveled more than a few miles from home, or ridden in an automobile.

Lou Hoover, students and teacher, Christine Vest on the steps of the Mountain School.

Many of the mountaineers – adults and children alike – encountered electric lights, running water and the radio for the first time inside the school house.  In the evenings, the parents also studied reading, writing, arithmetic and geography with Miss Vest, and learned about people and places in the outside world by listening to the news on the radio.  On Sundays, Miss Vest taught Sunday School in the large classroom, and worship services were led by “Pa” Buraker.

By 1935, the State of Virginia had condemned over 3000 parcels of land that were slated to become part of the new Shenandoah National Park, and the Buraker family and all their neighbors were relocated.  Most settled nearby, in or near established towns where the children had access to local public schools.  With no students, the President’s Mountain School was closed.

The school had operated for just five years, but the effect it had on the lives of the people it served was immeasurable.  Part of the purpose of the school, from the very beginning, was to prepare the mountain families for life in the outside world.  The children who attended the President’s Mountain School went on to lead fairly ordinary lives, and their stories can be found in public records and news clippings.  Ray Buraker, the “possum boy,” enlisted in the Army during World War II at age 22; on his enlistment form, he stated his pre-war occupation as cook.  During the war he served in the Army Ordnance Department and the Army Air Forces and rose to the rank of Sergeant.  He was married in 1961 at the age of 43; on the marriage license he listed his occupation as electronics technician.  He lived near Lynchburg, Virginia for many years, and passed away there at the age of 85.

By the late 1930s, all of the mountain cabins were demolished, and the schoolhouse was moved to Big Meadows on Skyline Drive, where it was converted into a ranger station.  Three of the thirteen buildings at Camp Rapidan have been preserved, and the site is open to visitors, just a short hike from the scenic Skyline Drive which now whisks thousands of visitors each year through the rugged terrain.

Posted in Herbert Hoover, Lou Henry Hoover | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Clouds of War: The Friendship of Louis Chevrillon and Herbert Hoover

Part 2 (Part 1: A Mother’s Day Gift: the Friendship of Louis Chevrillon and Herbert Hoover)

By Thomas F. Schwartz

On December 15, 1938, Chevrillon wrote to Hoover presenting a grim future for France and Europe. Commending Hoover on his strong public statements against the German government’s oppression of Jews on what is now referred to as Kristallnacht, an exasperated Chevrillon wrote:

“That such wholesale persecution be possible under our so called civilization is an outrage to the human mind.  Unfortunately, public opinion here has ceased to react to the frightful crimes perpetrated just beyond our frontiers.

When one thinks of the wholesale massacres of priests and nuns in Spain, of the systematic chronic assassination in Russia, of the scandalous oppression in Germany and Italy, one can only say that the human brain has a limit set to the comprehension and realization of such horrors—they have become part of the daily bread served by the press to the public whose interest is dulled by the mere repetitions of crime!

We in France lead our hum drum lives as if the world were not dancing on a tight rope with its eyes closed and a tremendous precipice below.

We nearly fell off in September, when war was just averted by a hair breadth and we do not seem to be at all aware of the very heavy bill that we and the English have paid to avoid it.

Germany has most attained its ends and won a second bloodless victory.  By the Munich conferences, Europe has reached a turning point in its history.  The whole planetary system of European powers has been profoundly altered.  The secondary planets such as Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, Serbia will now revolve around the new German sun slowly but surely progressing East.  Ukraine will no doubt follow and we will have to sit still until the whole system has grown into a huge particular mass that will then set out to absorb us.  We only have ten or twenty years respite which we will live in constant alarm of an attack.”

Chevrillon’s prediction came much sooner, for less than a year later, the Germans invaded Poland and the French and British declared war against Germany.   With the German invasion of France in May, 1940, Chevrillon penned a stoic letter to Hoover on September 2, 1940:

“We are beaten, we have signed an armistice and we must stick by it and endure.  Of course with modern armament it seems an easy matter for Germany to keep us in bondage, a disarmed people cannot revolt against tanks, machine guns, and air bombing planes but I cannot help thinking that in a new reorganized Europe moral forces will, or at least may, dominate over material strength.  And also the English or rather British situation is far from desperate and I look forward to a more humane peace than what we anticipated a month ago.

We will be now going through years of misery, industry will be ruined, and production of food will be reduced to something very small, given the German privileges.  Next winter will see an appalling shortage of food, coal and an enormous increase of unemployed.”

Hoover immediately responded: “My main concern in this letter, however, is to know if there is anything personal that I can do for you.  Your friends here would be glad to see that you get financial support to enable you to care for your family if you can tell us how we can reach you.  Furthermore, if it were possible that you would wish to send the boys to the United States and a way could be found for them to get here, I would be glad to take charge of them.  I do not know that America has any better outlook than Europe for the long view future, but perhaps life would unfold for them better here than there if they wish to make the change.”  Hoover also sent word to Millard Shaler whose London meeting with Hoover in 1914 resulted in the creation of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).  Shaler’s office in Lisbon also handled matters for the Belgian American Education Foundation, the organization created from the residual funds of the CRB.  Hoover wanted Shaler to keep in communication with Chevrillon and assist him in whatever way necessary.

On December 28, 1940 Chevrillon indicated to Shaler that “I feel very much like a man walking along a very light rope that might snap any moment.”  Realizing that his situation in Vichy France was difficult but not oppressive, Chevrillon indicated to Shaler that Hoover “has been more than kind and now that he has written and telegraphed in such a brotherly way and generously even suggested to take my whole family under his care, I wonder whether I could through him obtain a loan which I would certainly repay.”  Shaler quickly sent the following telegram to the Belgian fund in New York:

“Chevrillons address Two Rue Jouxt Aigues Toulouse Stop Family well and all must remain France for business reasons Stop Chevrillon would greatly appreciate one hundred thousand franc loan which will see him through Stop After consulting Chief cable decision following which you cable what amount dollars necessary.”

Throughout the war Hoover continued to correspond with Chevrillon and continued to have Shaler and others out of the Lisbon office check on his friend to make certain he was not in want for food and funds.  Chevrillon never forgot Hoover’s generosity nor did he ever regret staying in Vichy France throughout the war.


Posted in Herbert Hoover, Humanitarian | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Another Lou Henry Hoover Commencement Address

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Henry Hoover receiving a basket of flowers from the wife of the Dean of Whittier college at the commencement ceremonies. 06/10/1931 ca. Lou attended school here as a young girl – before it became a college.

In the course of her life, Lou Henry Hoover gave many addresses to graduating classes: Radcliffe, Bryn Mawr and Whittier Colleges, Stanford University, and Castilla high school.  The first time that she spoke to a graduating class occurred in 1890, when sixteen year old Lou Henry spoke as valedictorian to her Bailey Street School classmates in Whittier, California.

Her speech fills seven pages of a school notebook with her precise penmanship.  The scattered cross-outs and penciled revisions are evidence that this was a polished draft.  Lou Henry chose as her theme ‘Little Jack Horner’ noting that all in attendance were more or less familiar with this Mother Goose character, his Christmas pie, and his proclivity for thumb-plucking plums.

Lou Henry uses Jack Horner as a point of departure in examining the futures of her classmates.  She notes that: ‘We are all little Jacks, and the pie from which we are so greedily picking is our own great wide world.’  Lou ponders how her classmates will handle the opportunities before them.  Will they gently raise the crust and take only selected plums?  Will they be bold and grab hold with both hands as many plums as they can carry? Will they be patient as they explore the depths of the pie, carefully judging each plum on its merits?

Lou Henry closes with a profound and provocative question: ‘Shall we share equally in the pie, or shall one, by more toil, or cunning, secure a larger portion, and, swelling with pride, look down upon the rest and exclaim, ‘What a great boy am I!’’  This question reveals something of the breadth of young Lou’s mind; just as it reveals something of the depth of her compassion.

This speech has not been cited by Lou Henry Hoover biographers because it was tucked behind the framed diploma marking her graduation.  The speech was discovered when the Hoover museum staff disassembled the frame to removed acidic matting.  The speech now rests in box 73 of the Lou Henry Hoover papers in the Hoover archives where it is available to researchers for the first time in more than one hundred years.

Posted in Lou Henry Hoover | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Rites of Spring: Lou Henry Hoover’s Commencement Address at Stanford, 1941

Lou Henry Hoover at commencement ceremonies at Stanford Univerisity. ca. 1941

While on the subject [howsoever narrow] of Hoovers speaking at Stanford commencements, I would be remiss not to note that Lou Henry Hoover contributed to the oeuvre.   Lou Henry Hoover was one of three speakers tapped to address the graduates at Stanford’s fiftieth anniversary, June 15, 1941.  She was the first woman to address Stanford’s graduating class; the next woman to speak at Stanford’s commencement did so thirty-five years later.

She opened her address to ‘Stanford boys and girls of the last four years; Stanford men and women of the fifty years to come’ by having the other dignitaries on the stage join her in saying: ‘We salute you.’  Ever humble, Lou then went on to say, ‘There is no academic subject that I could present that would hold your attention for five minutes on such a momentous occasion.’  So she harkened back to her own time at Stanford, noting that she was first year student when the ‘Pioneers,’ the first group of students to attend Stanford for four years, graduated in 1895.

Lou neatly segued to 1941, reminding the current graduates that pioneering opportunities still exist: ‘Geography is not the only field to offer alluring frontiers to explore and conquer.  Science, social sciences, historical research, economics and medicine all afford pioneering opportunities.’  It was incumbent on the graduates to recognize this, to draw practical lessons from the old captains, and to base future explorations on the accomplishments of the past.  Lou closed her brief remarks by challenging the graduates to imagine themselves fifty years in the future [‘1991!’] and face this question: ‘How much will your activities have been influenced by your four years at Stanford?’  By closing with such a provocative question, Lou made her point.

Strangely, her husband Herbert Hoover, was not among the more than eighty Stanford alumni joining the festivities that Sunday afternoon.  Herbert spent the day travelling from the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where he’d met with cereal magnate Will Keith Kellogg, to the Chicago-area home of businessman and publisher Arch Shaw.  Eventually Herbert Hoover wended his way to Palo Alto, reaching the Hoover home there on June 16, 1941.  On June 19th, he delivered the keynote address at the symposium celebrating Stanford’s fiftieth anniversary.  The next day, he spoke at the dedication of the Hoover Library for War, Revolution and Peace.  I do not know whether Lou Henry Hoover attended these events.

Posted in Lou Henry Hoover | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Boy Hero Visits Hoover White House and Leaves a Family Friend

by Lynn Smith

Pleasant Hill school bus after crash, March 28, 1931.

March 26, 1931 started as a lovely 60 degree spring day on the eastern plains of Colorado between the small farming communities of Towner and Holly. Twenty local children, dressed for spring, set out for Pleasant Hill School near the Kansas border in a makeshift bus fashioned from a 1929 truck with a wooden cover, wood benches for seats, and cardboard over two broken windows. When the bus arrived at the school, snow was falling. It was decided that the bus should take the children back to their homes. Soon, a blizzard engulfed the area. The bus driver was quickly disoriented in the blowing snow and by 9:30 a.m. the bus got stuck in a ditch, the engine stalled, and wouldn’t restart. The children were trapped on the bus for over 30 hours in subzero temperatures before being found. In the end, five children, and the bus driver, who left the bus to search for help, perished. The tragedy made national news, and the Denver Post newspaper made one survivor, twelve year old Bryan Untiedt, a hero and netted him an invitation to visit to the White House from President Hoover.

Bryan Untiedt with President Hoover on the White House lawn.

The Hoover Library contains eight files of correspondence and newspaper clippings related to Pleasant Hill School student Bryan Untiedt. While none of the files contains an itinerary for his White House visit, contemporary news reports identify his adventures during his three day stay (April 30-May 2, 1931). Bryan’s visit included stops at the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the National Zoo. A trip to Mount Vernon concluded with a cruise up the Potomac River on the presidential yacht, U.S.S. Sequoia.  He watched morning Hooverball games from the Blue Bedroom and had at least one visit alone with Mr. Hoover. He frequently dined with Mr. and Mrs. Hoover, their son Herbert, Jr., his wife and their two children, Peggy Ann and Herbert, III (aka “Pete”) who were visiting from North Carolina. Bryan entertained the Hoover grandchildren with his harmonica playing. At the same time as Bryan’s visit, the President and Mrs. Hoover welcomed the King and Queen of Siam to the White House.  It is unlikely that Bryan formally met the royal couple, but he watched as they arrived at the White House and saw the Queen touring Mount Vernon with Mrs. Hoover.

White House staff kept Bryan’s visit fairly well shielded from the press. It was thought best to keep the lad from extensive media coverage, requests for interviews etc. while in Washington. When word of Bryan’s passion for harmonicas got out, the White House received several from the Philadelphia Harmonica Band to give to Bryan.  He also received one from Florida Representative Ruth Bryan Owen who was eager to give one to her “namesake.” Our photograph collection contains one image of Mr. Hoover with Bryan in front of the White House. It was published in dozens of newspapers across the country.

Following his visit, Mr. and Mrs. Hoover kept in touch with Bryan and his parents for the next eleven years. During that that time, the Hoovers corresponded with the family and offered financial help for Bryan to attend college when the time came. Bryan opted to go to work to help with the family’s needs rather than attending college. Mrs. Hoover used a family friend in Denver, Colorado to keep an eye out for the Untiedt family and assist as possible when drought and other misfortunes struck. The last correspondence Mrs. Hoover received from Bryan was a card announcing the birth of his son, Jon Michael Untiedt, in May 1942.


Posted in Herbert Hoover, White House | Tagged , | Leave a comment

State Dinner at the Hoover White House for the King and Queen of Siam


On April 29, 1931 several precedents were set at a State Dinner at the White House.  The Hoovers hosted King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambai, monarchs of Siam.  This was the first State Dinner where an ‘Oriental monarch’ met with the President.  It was also the first time that the ruling monarch sat at the right hand of the President. Generally the guest of honor sat opposite the President.  Finally, this was the first time that Dolly Gann, sister of Vice­-President Charles Curtis, was granted official recognition as second ranking lady in the nation.

Visits from heads of states are driven by page after page of protocols established by the State Department, the nation of the visiting dignitary, and the White House.  Details have to be ironed out weeks in advance, inconsistencies have to be reconciled and procedures have to be clearly articulate so that the visit runs smoothly.  For example, the visit of the King and Queen of Siam led Lou Henry Hoover’s staff to issue a 14-page manifesto describing activities from the minute the royal family debarked from the train on April 29th until the moment they left town on May 1st.  Even at 14 pages, the protocol explanation fell short, thrice resorting to ‘see State Department memo’ for further details.  Every contingency was accounted for, and redundancies were built into the plan to ensure the safety of the guests.

King Paradhipok and Queen Rambai Barni of Siam in the living room of Suite 31-A in the Waldorf Astoria hotel – having a luncheon. 04/05 – 1931 ca.

The King and Queen arrived at 8:00 p.m. and were received by the Hoovers in the Red Room.  Before the arrival of the royals, members of the Siamese party joined nearly fifty American guests in the East Room.  The Hoovers and the royals briefly exchanged courtesies before joining the others in the East Room where the Hoovers presented their majesties to the assembly.  Adopting the American custom, the King and Queen then shook hands with the guests before repairing to the banquet table.

Contemporary press coverage gave considerable attention to décor of the room, the names of the guests, the couture of the ladies and the elaborate menu.  The table ‘had about it the airy atmosphere of Spring’ containing vases filled with pink tulips, red tea roses, bridal wreath of pink and white flowers, and California grapes cascading nearly to the Belgian lace tablecloth.  The guest list was strictly dictated by State Department protocol.  Queen Rambai wore a regal gown of gold brocade cut simply to fit her figure. This gown set off her necklace of emeralds and diamonds, the gems being of unusual size and beauty. Mrs. Hoover wore a gown of heavy ivory faille taffeta with a long train.  She wore no jewels.  Mrs. Hoover held with her custom of serving only American food to visitors from abroad.  The dinner included fish, cold lobster, cunningly devised baskets of beets stacked with cucumbers, chicken breast and endives.  Dessert consisted of ices, fruits and candies.

Queen Rambai Barni of Siam visiting Washington DC. ca. April 1931

After dinner the men retired upstairs for coffee and cigars.  The ladies repaired to the Blue Room for coffee.  Here Mrs. Hoover took pains to introduce the Queen to small groups, thus enabling each little group of Washington women to have a few minutes’ conversation with her majesty.  The men and women then reconvened in the East Room for a short musicale by harpist Mildred Dilling.  They were joined by an additional hundred guests eager to see royalty.  Dilling played an abbreviated program so that the King could retire early, as he had an appointment the next day with an eye specialist at Johns Hopkins to discuss surgery for his cataract.

Lou Hoover, ever the gracious hostess, followed up with hand-written letters to the Queen in May. In the first she asks Queen Rambai to send a photograph of herself to match excellent likeness that the King sent in memory of their delightful visit.  In the second letter, Lou writes: ‘Again with the hope of both the President and myself for his Majesty’s speedy recovery, I am, with many happy memories, yours most sincerely.’

Posted in Herbert Hoover, Lou Henry Hoover, Presidency, White House | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Mother’s Day Gift:  The Friendship of Louis Chevrillon and Herbert Hoover

Part 1

By Thomas F. Schwartz

One of the under researched aspects of Herbert Hoover is his vast network of associates that provided him with vital information as well as served as valuable agents in his many humanitarian efforts.  Louis Chevrillon is unknown to most Americans, but he was one of the driving forces in feeding French citizens in the German occupied areas of France during World War I.  The Commission for Relief in Belgium coordinated with the Committee in Northern France of which Chevrillon was Treasurer.  The correspondence between Chevrillon and Hoover housed at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum begins the story in the early 1930s when the Commission for Relief in Belgium’s Education Foundation is wrapping up accounts.  The Committee in Northern France represented by Edmond Labbe, President, and Louis Chevrillon, Treasurer, decided to use the portions of funds remaining from the war to erect a statue in honor of the sacrifice of mothers in France during the war.

Perrin C. Galpin, a close associate of Hoover as well as secretary of the C.R.B. Education Foundation, alerted Hoover to the likelihood of the remaining funds being used for a statue.  As he explained to the “Chief”: “The part we liked particularly was the idea that the French started out to do certain things in health work largely as demonstrations with school lunches, pre-natal care of mothers and the care of nursing mothers.  Much of this work has now been taken over by the state or the local authorities so the Committee is winding up in a creditable way.  The documents also show that they are becoming more and more appreciative of the work you did for them during the war through the C.R.B.”  This is a reference to the wide ranging relief programs that served mothers and infants undertaken by the C.R.B. during and after the war.

Hoover, already aware that the Committee in Northern France course of action was a fait accompli, sent Louis Chevrillon an encouraging letter:

“I have seen the report of the meetings at which the affairs of the successors to North[ern] of (sic) France Committee were liquidated.  You and your colleagues have shown the way in child health matters and have the record of successful accomplishment which you all can look back on with pride and satisfaction.

The plans for the final liquidation of the funds are well thought out and if any group deserves a statue in your country, the Mothers of France have shown themselves worthy of every test.”

Jardin du Monument aux Meres Francaises

Jardin du Monument aux Meres Francaises

French architect Paul Bigot was selected to design the monument with sculptures produced by artists Henri Bouchard and Alexandre Descatoire.  As Chevrillon described the work in his response to Hoover in August 1936: “The monument is to be erected in Paris at the Porte d’ Italie where a large part is to be laid out by the municipality of Paris…Ceremonies will take place and as in your own country, a mother’s day will be instituted when school children will congregate for a fitting celebration.  In fact the origins of Labbe’s idea has been precisely the American mother’s day which struck him as a very pious and highly moral institution.  Personally, I feel that in these times so full of trouble, then the world seems to be turned into a mad house when such essentials as family, liberty, property, religion and morality are threatened to be offered in sacrifice to the monster of communism, it is an atonement to think that such a project is still accepted.  As to our present government, it has destroyed more in three months than can be reconstructed in three years and we are being led into the imminent danger of civil or foreign war…or both with eventually Mr. Hitler posing as the champion of civilization in Europe.  These are bitter times and I look back with comfort to the time when under your guidance, it was my good fortune to participate to such work as the Relief.”

The monument was dedicated on October 25, 1938, by French President Albert Lebrun.  But as Chevrillon foresaw, Germany would invade France months later in May 1940.

Posted in Herbert Hoover, Humanitarian | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Not Quite American

By Spencer Howard

Lou Henry Hoover’s papers include numerous files documenting some of the secretaries, servants and aides that worked for her over the years.  Among them is a folder of letters that tell the story of a Filipino, Matias Estella.

Matias Estella was born in the Philippines around 1896.  Two years later, the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain, and all Filipinos became U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens.  Unlike other Asian peoples, who were almost entirely barred from entering the U.S., Filipinos could then freely enter, live, and work here.

Florence and Charles Hoover, Lou Henry Hoover’s parents. ca.1910

As a boy, Matias became a servant of an American naval officer, who then brought him to the U.S.  By 1917 he was hired as a “house boy” by Lou’s parents, Charles and Florence Henry, at their home in Monterey.  Matias took care of the Henrys for the next decade, especially Charles.  He served as chauffer, camping guide and companion, and filled every role in the household, as Lou would say, “from cook to cabin boy.”  During these years, Lou’s sister, Jean Henry Large, went through a messy divorce, and she and her two children frequently stayed at the Henry house.

After Florence died in 1921, Lou determined that what her father needed was an outdoor adventure, so with Matias behind the wheel, Lou and Charles drove the Hoovers’ Cadillac all the way from Palo Alto to Washington DC.  At that time, there were no freeways, and paved highways were rare;  highway signs and roadmaps were scarce or unreliable.  The trip took 34 days, averaging a little over 100 miles per day.  Many nights they camped out under the stars;  Matias cooked their meals and repaired the frequent punctured tires.  After a brief stay in Washington, Charles and Matias returned to California by train.  In the mid-1920s, Charles, along with Jean and her children, moved to Palo Alto and Matias went with them.  Matias also took on the extra work of caring for the Hoover home in Palo Alto, during times when it was unoccupied.

By 1927, Matias was in his early 30s, though still referred to publicly as the Henrys’ Filipino “boy.”  Due to the death of his parents, he inherited responsibility for members of his extended family back in the Philippines, so he decided to return to his hometown, Kalibo, uncertain whether he would ever come back to the U.S.  As he was preparing to leave, Lou sent him a check for $700.  “I want you to look upon it as a very informal loan,” she wrote.  “If [your] business is a success you can repay it.  But if it should be a failure, and make it very difficult for you to pay me back, then you are to consider it in the nature of a gift rather than a loan.”

Matias invested Lou’s money in some local business, and felt confident that his family’s financial situation was secure.  During this time he was also married.  He soon returned to California, though it’s not clear whether his wife traveled with him.  After Charles Henry died in 1928, Matias moved to Washington to work for the Hoover family, and followed them to the White House in 1929 where he was given a job as a pantry boy.  By late 1929 he felt compelled to return again to the Philippines, though what caused him to do so is not documented.  Lou arranged for him to travel on board the U.S. Army Transport Cambrai, which regularly shuttled across the Pacific.

A year later he was having second thoughts.  His business ventures were not going well, and “besides that,” he wrote to Lou, “my health doesn’t agree with the climate.  Now I have in mind to go back in the States with my wife to work in your family or to some of your friends if there is a chance for me, but I prepare first to be in your family because I feel at home to be with them.”  Lou found an opening for him in the household of Vernon Kellogg, a professor at Stanford University and close friend of the Hoovers, but Matias’s wife fell ill, and they never made the trip.

Things improved for Matias and his family.  Aided by glowing letters of recommendation Lou sent to the Governor-General, he picked up a series of government jobs – dynamite inspector for the Bureau of Public Works, time keeper on road construction projects, and assistant to the chief of a government fish farm.  His last recorded contact with Lou was in 1938;  he told her about his three children and offered to send a photograph.  Lou replied, congratulating him and giving news of the Hoovers and the Larges.  “Things in California look much as they did when you knew it,” she wrote, “but times are very, very much harder.  You were indeed fortunate to get back to your own country when you did, as everyone has a much harder time to make a living now than when you knew California.”

As a Filipino and U.S. national, Matias’s immigration experience was somewhat unusual, in that he could freely travel, live and work in the U.S.  But like many immigrants, Matias wrestled with his loyalties to his birthplace and to his adopted home.  While en route to the Philippines in 1929, Matias wrote to Lou, “I feel happy to think that I am on my way home, but at the same time, I feel sorry to think that I shall soon be far from the United States, the Country to which I shall always be loyal and faithful.”  Ultimately, economic concerns took precedence – the need to provide for himself and for his family.

Posted in Hoover Family, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fish Story

by Matthew Schaefer

While re-processing the personal papers of Senator Bourke Hickenlooper, I came across a folder labeled ‘Fish, 1954-1966.’  This was an odd title, and less descriptive than one would hope.  Being a curious cat, I further investigated this fishy folder.  It contained dozens of letters, newspaper clippings, receipts and photographs documenting Hickenlooper’s landing of a behemoth rainbow trout while fishing in Bolivia.

Map of Lake Titicaca.

Acting in his capacity as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hickenlooper traveled to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru in the fall of 1954.  While there, he spent the morning of October 2nd fishing with former Ambassador Edward Sparks, William Dodge and Herbert Hoover, Jr. on Lake Titicaca.  Shortly after 10 AM, a heavy strike dragged his daredevil lure deep into the cold waters.  Whatever it was, it was big.  After a 20-minute struggle, during which the trout leaped fully out of the water six times, Hickenlooper brought the beast into the boat.  Hickenlooper had caught a 34-pound rainbow trout, one of the largest ever caught as reported by the New York Times.

Hickenlooper’s fish was no nine-day wonder.  In 1965, photo-journalist Loren McIntyre, retold the story in an article he was preparing for National Geographic.  The magazine’s fact-checkers, doing their job, contacted Hickenlooper to confirm details offered by McIntyre.  Hickenlooper dutifully edited the manuscript, modifying McIntyre’s description of the fish weighing 37 pounds to report its 34 pound weight – perhaps the first time a fish story shaved size off the fish.

Hickenlooper’s October 2, 1965 letter goes on to say: ‘It was alleged to have been the largest trout ever caught on tackle, and I have been told that is the largest ever caught in Lake Titicaca.’   An avid sportsman, he could not refrain from offering details regarding his gear: ‘I used a Peconic Bay Boat rod made by Horrocks-Ibbotson, a Shakespeare Service Star reel with 12-pound test Wexford Nylon Wonder Line.’  Piscatorial minds want to know.

Hickenlooper closes his letter with shout-out to another Iowa fisherman: ‘These rainbow trout were stocked in Lake Titicaca in 1931 at the direction of President Herbert Hoover, who as an experienced fisherman, realized the deep cold water environment would lead them to thrive.’  Invasive species had not been fully developed as a concept at that time.  Invasive species or not, at least one large rainbow trout would not top the Lake Titicaca food chain.  Hickenlooper has his catch put on ice, mounted and placed on display in his Senate office.

Posted in Sports and Leisure | Tagged | Leave a comment

Feng shui at the White House

By Thomas F. Schwartz

A popular approach to room design is feng shui, or creating the right harmony between the room, the furnishings, and the people who use the space.  When Herbert and Lou Hoover moved into the White House on March 4, 1929 it took some time and many rearrangements of the furniture before the White House felt like a home.  In a May 25, 1929 letter to her two sons, First Lady Lou Hoover describes their efforts at personalizing the rooms:

                “We are beginning to feel perfectly at home.  Daddy has moved all the upstairs furniture once, and most of it twice.

He seems definitely set—his in the corner dressing room and I in the big middle one, which really is much nicer for me.  We changed the bedroom on the other side of the ‘west sitting-room’ into our family sitting room—for said west was only the end of the hall at best. (The little corner bedroom beyond it Charlie Field is occupying now).

Daddy wanted his study all changed about—which disclosed the fact that the walls were not painted behind the bookcases!  So to get that done he moved out, into the next-door big ‘blue bedroom,’ said bed and some furniture disappearing temporarily.  Now he likes that room so much better, he wants to stay there!  His old study can’t be made into a bedroom, because there were no bathrooms handy, handier than the third floor.  I don’t like the idea of running way down the hall to the family sitting room.  So the present suggestion is to turn the end-the-hall sitting room into the grand blue bedroom (or the mid Victorian black walnut bed room).  Turn the old study into the drawing room—square—and the drawing room into the family living room.  (It has a door into my workroom—so I can go into it without going into the halls at all).  Which will keep us moving furniture for a month!

Lou Hoover’s sketch of the furniture arrangements in the White House.



So there is the way we look as tho’ we were going to be.  The housekeeper moving upstairs.  It gives us the same number of bedrooms on this floor, but one of them is like Allan’s, with a little dressing room attached, instead of the big blue one.  So there is still room for all of you here at once!

Much love,


This was written just as Allan started south, and was meant for all three of you [son Herbert and wife Margaret, and son Allan].

You will be kind to me if you send it on to him—which will save me writing another letter.

Dear Allan,

I’ve been intending to mail this to you for weeks.  Sorry!


The letter went to son Herbert and his wife Margaret (Peg) but clearly the best of intentions delayed forwarding it on to Allan.

Posted in Hoover Family, White House | Tagged | Leave a comment