White House Staff Remember Lou

By Thomas F. Schwartz, Director

ou Henry Hoover sitting at the "Monroe Desk" -  that was reproduced for the White House collection. ca 1931

Lou Henry Hoover sitting at the “Monroe Desk” –
that was reproduced for the White House collection. ca 1931

A genre of writing concerns the memoirs of domestic White House staff.  Personal secretaries, head butlers, maids, and secret service who live round the clock with the President, First Lady, and First Family see and hear things that are typically not reported at the time but become known through “tell all” memoirs.  Many of these memoirs are often flawed with editors at publishing house exaggerating incidents to make the book more saleable.  But many of the individuals who served in the White House never seek financial rewards from the history they witnessed first-hand.  From 1969 through the early 1970s, a series of interviews largely conducted by former news reporter Raymond Henle, created an oral history record on Herbert Hoover.  Still in its infancy, the interviews that Henle captured do not reflect the professional standards observed by oral historians of today.  Henle often interjects himself, offering his own views and judgements rather than simply letting his subjects speak.  Once transcripts were made of the taped interviews, the cassette tapes were destroyed so future researchers could not check the accuracy of the transcript and hear the voices of the individuals being interviewed.  Regardless, the transcriptions, especially of White House staff, provide valuable information, especially about First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

Alonzo Fields, who served as a butler for the Hoovers, recalled “You never had to go to Mrs. Hoover or the President and say, ‘Fields is sick, and his wife is in poor condition, and they’re in need.’  Somehow or another, they always seemed to know it.  And you would receive benefits without anyone pleading to them.”  Fields acknowledged that other First Ladies would provide assistance if they were asked for help.  “But not with the Hoovers,” because Lou, as Fields claimed, “seemed to know it beforehand.”  He offered the specific example of a young man who worked at the White House named Wilkinson.  “He had ulcers,” according to Fields, “and in those days I think the early thought was to treat them with cream and milk, and things like that.  He was a houseman, and I bet a dime on it that he only got about $43 every two weeks, about eighty some odd dollars a month.  And he had five in the family.  This going on a cream diet for him was completely out.  One morning the milkman made a delivery at his door, and he said that he didn’t order cream.  The milkman said ‘Well, I’m sorry, cream has been ordered for this residence.  The name is Wilkinson?’  He said, ‘Yes.’  ‘Well, this has been taken care of.  I know the order has been placed here for your benefit.’  Mrs. Hoover had ordered that cream delivered to his house every day.”

Phillips Brooks was a pantry man and then butler in the White House.  When he developed tuberculosis and had to take an extended leave of absence, Lou hired his wife Katurah to serve as her personal maid to provide the Brooks family with an uninterrupted income.  Lou encouraged Katurah to visit her husband at the tuberculosis sanitarium in Glendale, Maryland.  On one visit, Katurah noticed the bottom of her husband’s bed was covered in snow.  Hospital staff had left the screened window at the foot of his bed open during a snow fall.  Lou sensed Katurah was upset and inquired “’Katurah, you look all down in the dumps.’  I said, ‘Well, I am.  I went out to see Phil this afternoon and when I got to where he was, the bottom of his bed was full of snow.’  She jumped up and she went to the telephone and called this hospital and said she wanted him to have special service and to be put in a place where there would be no draft or anything, because she wanted him to get thoroughly well, and if they couldn’t do that she would see that someone was placed at the head of the hospital who would.  I never will forget that.  She was so interested in his welfare.”

Lou could understand Katurah’s plight as their oldest son, Herbert Jr., was also recovering from tuberculosis in Asheville, North Carolina.  As dutiful grandparents, Lou and President Hoover watched over their grandchildren, Peggy Ann, “Pete” and baby Joan while their son recuperated.  Just as the Hoovers loved their own family, White House staff were treated as family members.

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Are You Ready for Some Football?

by Matthew Schaefer

From the time he was a Stanford student, Hoover was a fan of football.  In his memoirs, Hoover plays up his role as the financial manager of the Stanford football team that won ‘The Big Game’ against Cal in ’94.   The Stanford eleven no doubt benefited by the coaching prowess of Walter Camp, one of the giants of collegiate football.  As President, Hoover invited that team to the White House for a reunion.

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

This proximity to football demi-gods, coupled with other life accomplishments, earned Hoover the annual gold medal award from the National Football Foundation and Hall Fame.  Hoover was the third man given this medal, following Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur.  This medal was presented at a December 6, 1960 dinner.

At age 86, Hoover might have been expected to send regrets and not to attend.  As the dinner was held at 420 Lexington Avenue, New York City–an address formerly shared by the American offices of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the American Relief Administration–Hoover attended.  He made the short cab ride from the Waldorf-Astoria and spoke to those gathered to honor him.

Hoover’s address opened: ‘I often have indicated my conviction for the high purpose and values of football and sports generally.  Sportsmanship is the greatest teacher of morals except for religion.  But I have doubted that this football award should be given to me—as I have never played football.’  Demurrals aside, Hoover then went on to reprise his memoir tales about managing the ’94 Stanford team.

He closed his remarks by returning to his premise that sports teach morals: ‘The value of this teaching is not limited to the members of contesting athletic teams.  It radiates to the huge crowds at college games; it radiates to the audience at all other games.  Those who attend know well the rules of sportsmanship for they quickly react adversely to any breach of the rules.  From true sportsmanship radiates moral inspiration to our whole nation.’

Somewhere in this story is a lesson for today.

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A Boy Named Herbert Hoover

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Herbert Hoover namesake, 1932.

Herbert Hoover namesake, 1932.

On March 30, 1932, a letter was sent to President Herbert Hoover from a young boy in Jackson, Tennessee along with a photograph.  Perhaps his first letter ever written to a President, the young man wrote:

Mr. Herbert Hoover

 

This letter is going to be different from any other I ever wrote because it has the same name at the end and beginning.

I have seen your picture in our history and the screen to.  I am going to send you one of mine.

I had my eleventh birthday Easter Sunday and I am in the lower fifth grade.

I have one brother who is twelve years old and one who is eight.

I was less than three years old when my father died and so I don’t remember him.

We are a busy family for we three boys go to school and my mother to work at the same time.

 

Yours truly,

 

Herbert Hoover

The letter must have resonated with the President.  Having lost his own father when he was six and a mother who was forced to find ways to supplement income for three children, President Hoover understood the emotion behind words penned by the eleven year old.  Instructing Lawrence Richey, his secretary, to respond to the young Hoover, the President sent a photograph of himself with King Tut, his beloved dog.

 

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Sometimes a Man Just Wants a Good Cigar

Matthew Schaefer

Sometimes, for an archivist, what you learn while looking up other things is more interesting than the original topic.  Recently a patron sought information on Herbert Hoover’s dealings with Cuba.  I found the ‘usual suspects’ for a food administrator, Commerce Secretary and President and his relations with our nearest non-contiguous neighbor.  But it was the wisp of smoke on the edge of my field of vision that eventually commanded my full attention.

Herbert Hoover’s ties with Cuba date from his time as head of US Food Administration when sugar became a vital commodity for the war effort.  Cuba, one of the largest producers of cane sugar in the world, was considered crucial by Hoover as he worked with USFA’s sugar committee.

During his Commerce years, sugar, US-Cuba trade, and tariffs were the main topics covered by the material here.  Pretty dry stuff even though it fills 8+ folders in the Commerce Papers.

Although Hoover was invited to tour Cuba as part of the Latin America Goodwill Trip after his election, he did not visit.

There is not much documentation on Cuba in Hoover’s Presidential papers.  There are four folders in the Foreign Relations series: two on Cuba itself, one each on our Ambassadors Guggenheim and Judah.

Reviewing these folders, it is clear that Cuba was a troubled nation during Hoover’s White House years.  The Cuban President, General Gerardo Machado, ignored his country’s constitution and extended his Presidential term in May 1929.  The material in the folders contain several reports on Machado’s dictatorship, the imposition of martial law, economic chaos, the closing of schools and universities, and the stifling of the press.

For his part, Hoover stood at arms’ length, not embroiling the United States in Cuban affairs.  Hoover had enough on his plate stateside.  Hoover issued two public statements on Cuba–one on May 20, 1931 and the other on May 20, 1932 [Cuban Independence Day].  In both statements Hoover offered the usual platitudes of ‘cordial sentiments of good will and best wishes for the continued prosperity of the Republic.’  These sentiments were expressed in telegrams sent to General Machado.

Former president Hoover attending a dinner in Prague, March 4, 1938.

Former president Hoover attending a dinner in Prague, March 4, 1938.

It appears that Hoover gave more time and attention to procuring a consistent supply of Cuban cigars for his personal use than to matters of state.  There are two folders in the Commerce papers which document Hoover’s efforts to keep supply lines open for Havana coronas and claros.  Hoover ordered them by the hundreds, paying close attention to the lightness of the wrapper and the mildness of the smoke.  The Ritz Carlton Cigar Company proved instrumental in supplying the Secretary of Commerce with these cigars.  In one exchange of letters in late March 1928, Ritz Carlton offers to hold 2000 cigars for Hoover.  Hoover demurs, asking that they hold only 1000.

This carried over into the Hoover Presidency.  He ordered cigars in lots of 500 to 1000 every month or two.  After losing the 1932 election, Hoover arranged to purchase 300 cigars each month to be delivered to his Palo Alto home beginning March 1933.  Amazingly, this habit seemed to have no long-term impact on Hoover’s health.  He lived to be ninety.

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Mum’s Summer Camp Blues

Matthew Schaefer

Portrait of Lou Hoover, Herbert Jr. ( age 15) and Allan (age 11)  Hoover. ca. 1912

Portrait of Lou Hoover, Herbert Jr. ( age 15) and Allan (age 11) Hoover. ca. 1912

Mothers know all too well the familiar refrain after sending their son to summer camp: ‘You never call. You never write.’  Lou Henry Hoover was no exception.  When her seventeen year-old son Allan went off to spend August at Cody, Wyoming’s Valley Ranch Camp and Yellowstone National Park, Lou did not hear from him for nearly one month.

Startling as this may seem to our modern sensibilities, accustomed to nearly constant contact via phone, Facebook or Snapchat, Lou Hoover was initially serene, sending letters to Allan without hope of response.  Her letters of August 1st, 8th, and 11th were conversational, bringing her son up to date on her own travels, family affairs, and Grandpa Henry’s fishing exploits on the Klamath River.  By the middle of the month, Lou turned to telegrams to reach Allan.  After sending eight telegrams in eight days, trying to nail down logistics for Allan’s return to Washington, enrollment in Stanford’s fall session, and housing in Palo Alto, Lou stopped.  She knew her son would have to write at some point.

Eventually, Allan wrote.   His August 29th letter opens: “I really feel guilty as a fool for not having written before, and I admit you got a pretty raw deal.”  He briefly catches ‘Mum’ up on recent activities-arriving in Washington, visiting family friends, riding in an aeroplane, before signing off, promising to write a long letter tomorrow.  True to his word, Allan wrote a 23-page letter the next day.  In this letter, he described his summer in fine detail: train ride to Cody, Buffalo Bill shows and rodeos, camp life, fishing, sights in Yellowstone, and the plane ride.  He closed with this post script: “I’m sure glad that you are not like Jack’s mother.  She kept calling folks to look out for him and send him warm shoes. He had a terrible time being a mama’s boy.”

Lou was thrilled to get such an informative letter from Allan, writing: ‘Your long letter and photos kept me very happy from 10 PM to midnight.  I can’t remember when I ever had a 23-page letter before….  It may surprise you to learn that your Daddy used to write me very long letters, but 15-17 pages was his limit.”  After weighing the benefits of one long letter v. 23 shorter letters, Lou concluded that they’d have equal merit–as long as they described a happy camper.

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Home Improvements at Camp Rapidan

by Matthew Schaefer

First Lady Lou Hoover riding at Camp Rapidan, ca. 1931.

First Lady Lou Hoover riding at Camp Rapidan, ca. 1931.

Even before entering the White House, the Hoovers determined that they would need to escape Washington DC’s notorious summer heat and humidity.  Given their love of the outdoors, the Hoovers’ purchase and development of a summer camp on the Rapidan River in Virginia came as no surprise.  The camp was in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, so it afforded respite from the summer heat.  It also offered trout fishing for President Hoover, an avid fly-fisherman. Finally, the 164-acre property had many trails for Lou Henry Hoover to ride.

Lou Hoover’s involvement with site selection and planning of the Rapidan Camp began in late January 1929, six weeks before the inauguration of Herbert Hoover.  She wrote a lengthy letter to her friend Jane Rippin, seeking advice on how best to build a suitable getaway.  Rippin, drawing on her experience in building Girl Scout camps from the ground up, offered sound counsel on creating a rustic weekend camp.  Lou Hoover outlined these needs: three guest tents/cabins, a mess hall large enough to serve twenty, servants quarters, and separate housing for the Hoovers ‘close enough to the streams to hear the running waters.’

President Hoover's guest tents at Camp Rapidan, summer 1929.

President Hoover’s guest tents at Camp Rapidan, summer 1929.

The Rapidan Camp slowly took shape over the summer of 1929.  When the Hoovers first spent the night in mid-May, they did so in tents set up by the Army.  By the time of their mid-June visit, the Hoovers’ cabin was near enough to completion to spend the night, but guests still slept in tents. The Hoovers spent over $13,000 that summer filling the site with buildings ‘harmonious with the rustic environment, consisting of plain pine-board structures of tasteful simplicity.’  With the camp built, Lou Hoover turned her attention to filling the cabins with apt furnishings, including books on local fish, wildlife and flora.

President and Mrs. Hoover visiting Camp Rapidan, the fishing lodge on the Rapidan River in Virginia. 08/02/1939

President and Mrs. Hoover visiting Camp Rapidan, the fishing lodge on the Rapidan River in Virginia. 08/02/1939

Lou Hoover’s eye for detail extended to the outdoors as she typed up a ten-page plan for the camp’s flowers and shrubs.  She identified more than thirty species of perennials, shrubs and trees native to the area [growing within twenty miles of the site] that she wanted around the cabins.  She was attuned to the indigenous plant’s sensitivity to sun and shade, planning which flowers to place in specific areas.  She also instructed the gardener not to create formal beds, preferring that the flora blend into the existing environs.

The Rapidan Camp served the Hoovers well as a summer getaway.  Their plan to donate the land to the United States for use of future Presidents came to naught as the terrain proved too rugged for the wheel-chair bound Franklin Roosevelt, who visited only once.  The camp saw sporadic use over the next two decades falling under the dominion of the Virginia State Conservation and Development Commission and the National Park Service.  Ultimately, the camp was restored by the Shenandoah National Park Service site.

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Not a Croc: The Hoover Alligators

By Thomas F. Schwartz

One of the great Hanna-Barbera cartoons was Wally Gator that ran from 1962 through 1963.  The vocal talents of Daws Butler, best known as the voice of Yogi Bear, made Wally Gator the alligator counterpart of that wily rabbit Bugs Bunny.  As everyone knows, alligators are found in the United States and China, while crocodiles, a close relation, are found in the wider regions of Africa, Asia, Central/South America, and Australia.  Fictional film character Crocodile Dundee [actor Paul Hogan], and real-life crocodile hunter the late Steve Irwin popularized the crocodile leaving alligators as the poor step-cousin.  Several websites claim that Herbert Hoover’s youngest son Allan had alligators in the White House making them the most noteworthy.  But Allan never had them at the White House although he did raise two baby alligators and spent great efforts to be a good owner.

Allan Hoover outside the family's home in Washington, DC, ca. 1918.

Allan Hoover outside the family’s home in Washington, DC, ca. 1918.

Herbert Hoover makes reference to the alligators in the second volume of his memoirs: “Allan was still in the stage of adventure where all sorts of animals must be accumulated.  By providing food and water for birds, he induced scores of them to daily visit us.  He also provided them quarters by hanging gourds in trees. Two dogs and two cats were necessary, and among the transitory possessions were two ducks which he trained to sit on the front porch to the infinite entertainment of passers-by.  A selection of land turtles gathered from the woods was all right; but two small alligators, presented to him by Clarence Woolley, were somewhat of a trial, for Allan believed they must be bedded at night in the bathtubs.”  At this time Hoover was living at 2300 S Street in Washington, DC and Allan was roughly fourteen years old.  Family issues and involvement with the Girl Scouts kept Lou Henry Hoover away from the S Street house for weeks at a time.  In the interim, Lou received regular progress reports from Philippi Harding and Dare Stark, two of her trusted assistants, on Allan’s activities.

On May 19, 1921, Philippi described to Lou a recent luncheon for Allan’s friends: “Alligator Allan (a title for which I must acknowledge Dare the inventor) seemed to enjoy ‘em, (his guests, I mean), and they all discussed with great authority the life histories of turtles, alligators, crocodiles and their various relations.”  On May 31, Philippi reported that she and Allan went to a shop claiming to have “a water lily for the alligator pond.  But Smitz had not produced their promised one, and so were told in high disdain they need not bother at all.  Someday a trip is to be made to a ‘water lily Farm.’   Personally, I have never heard of such but don’t pretend to compete in alligator & kindred subject with Professor Allan.”  When asked to go to a horse show with neighbors, Allan declined, “since horses did not seem to have the same fascination as Alligators….”  And just as quickly as his interest in alligators began in May, it seems to have peaked by September 12 when Philippi reported to Lou: “Allan has donated his Alligators to the Zoo for safe winter-keeping.  The turtles are inhabiting the fishpond—together with eight gold fish supplied by the Bureau of Fisheries.  And Allan is already planning how the lawn can be flooded for skating this winter, and studying the engineering possibilities of a sled-incline down the banks.”  By the end of September, Lou learned that “stamps have been the ruling passion of [Allan’s] life for three weeks now.

Allan Hoover began his undergraduate studies at Stanford the fall of 1925 so claims that he had the alligators at the White House don’t fit the facts.  Moreover, in a very moving and characteristically Lou Hoover letter, the whole episode of Allan and alligators is presented as only a loving mother could frame the topic.  The following letter is undated but likely written around 1926 to her son at Stanford:

2300 S Street
Washington, D.C.

Dearest Allan,

It is amazing how many different ways there are of receiving some kind of consolation, in larger or smaller quantities!

It is about “3 o’clock in the morning.”  I got awake and was wandering about my room, and took to feeling terribly bad because I had not had a scratch of a line from you since I came away.  I was really quite tragic about it.

After a little while I said to myself that I just had to forget it and must distract my mind with something.  A nice, new book addressed to Daddy, was on my table so I tore off the wrappers, and proceeded to try to forget my troubles.   It was a big volume, 554 pages, and I wondered what in the world they published it for.  For it was the report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year ending June 1922! It was introduced by a letter from the secretary submitting it to Congress, dated July 15, 1923.  And it was delivered on our doorstep apparently in December, 1924!

“Now,” I said, “why does anyone want to see 554 pages about the Smithsonian two and a half years after the date?  Why,” I added,” does anyone want to see 554 pages about the Smithsonian at all?”  Such, apparently, is the way of Government!

I turned the pages and distracted myself reading the titles of learned papers on Aeronautical Research, the Architecture of the Atom, Solar Energy, the Structure of Matter, and such like.  I turned the pages to the report of the Museum, and was surprised to stumble over the Zoo.  Here was a report on the baby hippopotamus and the baby tigers; of 1922.  And a list of all the animal deaths for that year—and their causes—long scientific names like gastroenteritis, and parasitic peritonitis, along with much pneumonia and anemia. (Very natural, the latter seemed to me, for animals in the Zoo, if you know what it is, just a lack of red blood corpuscles).

Then I turned automatically to the list of “68 individual donors,”—it said so, I did not count them.  It began with Mrs. Benjamin Abbott and a Virginia opossum, and ended with Mr. J.T. Zlinden and a yellow headed parrot.

And there, staring at me from the middle of the list, magnetically, for I had had no intention of reading the list, was
Mr. Allan Hoover, Washington, D.C. Two alligators.

My, how that brought you back to me!  A really little boy, leaving alligators swimming around in my bath-tub, while he built a pool of cement, and put stones all around the edge.  And plants in the middle!  And a wire barricade around.

I feel much cheered up.

I think I will read that interest item once or twice more, and then go back to bed.

Good night, sweet dreams.  (This is an essay.  But true).

Your loving,

Mum

The letter reveals all the common strategies of guilt mothers use to prompt children to write, especially sons and daughters at college.  But it also reveals Lou’s sense of wit and a shared loving memory of something that was very important at one time: Alligator Allan’s alligators now safely housed at the National Zoo.

 

 

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When a Mole is not a Mole.

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Herbert Hoover is presented with an award for public service and contributions to construction by the Moles.

Herbert Hoover is presented with an award for public service and contributions to construction by the Moles.

The most common association with the word “mole” is a skin blemish that most of us sport on some part of our anatomy.  Those more attuned to popular culture may also think of the hip hop Chicago trio, Moleman, or the supervillain in Marvel comics, Mole Man, or the campy 1961 Antonio Leonviolo film Mole Man Against the Son of Hercules.  Beginning in 1936, a group created a fraternal organization to represent the interests of the heavy construction industry.  Building tunnels was an important part of the industry with a mole becoming the unique symbol and moniker representing the organization.  In 1941, The Moles began to recognize outstanding contributions by people within the construction industry as well as people outside of the industry.  Herbert Hoover was selected to receive the non-member award in 1950 “in recognition of his Superlative Leadership in Advancing Human Dignity, Individual Enterprise and Personal Freedom: The Foundation of a Better World.”   Another president was also given an honorary membership in the organization that year, Dwight D. Eisenhower.  At the time, Eisenhower was president of Columbia University, not of the United States.  That would occur two years later.  But the comments of each at the ceremony are worth brief examination.

Hoover began his remarks with his brand of understated humor: “The engineer has certain disadvantages compared to the other professions.  His works are out in the open where all men can see them.  He cannot deny he did it.  The doctors’ mistakes are buried in the grave.  The voters forget when the politician changes his alphabetical names of his failing projects.  The trees and ivy cover the architects’ failures.  The lawyers can blame the Judge or the Jury.  Unlike the clergyman, the engineer, cannot blame his failures on the devil.”  If engineers bear all the responsibility of getting things right, Hoover argued they never get the credit.  “Usually, they put some politician’s name on it,” Hoover continued, “or they credit it to some fellow who used other people’s money with which to do it.”

But Hoover remained optimistic that engineers can take comfort in knowing that they are “a potent political, economic and social force….Thus despite all his afflictions and agonies the engineer has great satisfactions.  And transcendent over all, he has the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge, through the aid of the sciences, to a plan on paper.  Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy.  Then it brings jobs and homes to men.  Then it adds to the necessities and comforts of homes.  That is the engineer’s high privilege among professions.”

Eisenhower, after recognizing the appropriate individuals, spent his final remarks “paying tribute to one of the greatest Americans of our time—Mr. Hoover.”  Ike couldn’t resist relating the following story: “In a pre-dinner conversation, President Hoover and I were talking together, and he said, ‘Do you know that the only man who seems to have no title in the United States is an Ex-President?  You are still a General.’  And I said, ‘Well, don’t people call you Mr. President?’ He said, ‘No, I really think they just don’t know what to call me.’”  I suspect that both Hoover and Eisenhower could rightly be called, honorary “mole men.”

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Old Timers’ Day, New York Yankees Stadium, August 8, 1959

Former president Herbert Hoover with Joe DiMaggio at the Old Timer's Game in 1959 at Yankee Stadium.

Former president Herbert Hoover with Joe DiMaggio at the Old Timers’ Game in 1959 at Yankee Stadium.

Herbert Hoover was a lifelong fan of baseball, not just major league baseball, but baseball of all kinds.  Hoover played the game as a youth, tried out for the Stanford team while in college, and championed baseball as the ideal American sport.  Hoover was given season passes to the Washington Senators and New York Giants, attending several games each year.  As President, Hoover threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Senators.  As ex-President, Hoover remained a staunch baseball fan, attending many World Series games during the 1950s.

In 1956, Hoover granted the Cincinnati Reds permission to post this quote on the outfield wall of Crosley Field: “The rigid volunteer rules of right and wrong in sports are second only to religious faith in moral training—and Baseball is the greatest of American sports.”  This quote neatly sums up Hoover’s abiding love of America’s game.

On August 8, 1959, the New York Yankees hosted an Old Timers’ Day which brought together sixty former athletes who played for or against the Yankees in the twenty-four World Series involving the team.  Former Yankees Joe DiMaggio, Wally Pipp and Bill Dickey, and others played two innings against a National League team led by Bill Terry, Rogers Hornsby and Dizzy Dean.

Herbert Hoover, a special guest of the Yankees, was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Old Timers’ Game as he so often did while serving as President.  Hoover had so much fun throwing out the first pitch in 1959 [two days shy of his 85th birthday] that he threw out the ceremonial first ball for the Old Timers’ Game on August 13, 1961, three days after turning 86 years old.

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The Value of Knowing Your Birthday

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Herbert Hoover, age 3.

Herbert Hoover, age 3.

Most people have forgotten the days when you were born at home, often married at home, and had your wake and funeral at home.  These significant events were of importance to immediate family members and their church family members.  Records of births, marriages, and deaths were recorded in family Bibles and church records but not by the government.  In Iowa, that changed on July 1, 1880, when the state required counties to publically record births, marriages, and deaths.  Certified copies of these records could be obtained to provide any person who required documentation of these events.  In the case of Herbert Hoover, his birthday remained a source of mystery until 1924.

Part of the confusion was that his birth occurred late at night around or after midnight on August 10 or 11, 1874.  No one paid attention to the clock noting the exact time of birth.  The death of his father when Hoover was six followed by the death of his mother when Hoover was nine further removed people who could provide insight into the matter.  George H. Nash, Hoover’s preeminent biographer, noted that two sources support an August 11th date: the General Register of the Members of the Springdale Monthly Meeting of Friends, and a memoranda written by Hoover’s older brother Theodore.  Herbert Hoover went back and forth on his birthday, providing Stanford University the August 10th date but writing in an undated autobiographical statement the August 11th date.  It is often suggested that at some point Hoover settled on August 10, largely because of his public prominence and the need for consistency.   But tucked away in his papers as Secretary of Commerce is a folder that helps solve the mystery.

John A. Agnew, a solicitor representing Hoover in an endowment insurance settlement, wrote to Edgar Rickard who represented Hoover in the United States.  Agnew indicated the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society was willing to pay Hoover a sum of £2,295 [$169,040.52 in 2016 dollars] but needed a copy of his birth certificate or “something relating to Mr. Hoover’s age such as a baptismal certificate, a certified copy from a Family Bible or a birthday book, in order that they may admit the age therefrom.”  Rickard wrote to Hoover, indicating “that an affidavit of a relative of an older generation would be accepted, but that it is unlikely that Theodore’s or your sister’s affidavit would serve the purpose.  It is not unlikely that when you entered at Stanford you filed certificates of some character substantiating your age?”  Hoover began writing to relatives seeking their assistance in locating a family Bible or church record that could provide the required documentation.  As luck would have it, Hoover was able to learn that his uncle, Dr. John Henry Minthorn had his mother and father’s family Bible.  He was able to have it shipped to New York City, where Edgar Rickard photographed the entry showing that “Herbert Clark Hoover” was recorded as being born on “Aug. 10, 1874.”  This was attached to a notarized legal affidavit attesting to the provenance of the document’s source.  At last, Hoover had the best evidence to his date of birth that provided the money with which to celebrate in a fine fashion.

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