Hoover and His Camel

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Portrait of Herbert Hoover, 1898, Perth Australia.

Portrait of Herbert Hoover, 1898, Perth Australia.

One of Hoover’s fondest memories of being a student at Stanford University were the two summers he spent working with the United States Geological Survey in the Nevada High Sierra.  Most of the work required riding on horseback to navigate the rugged trails.  Hoover recalled: “In these long mountain rides over trails and through the brush, I arrived finally at the conclusion that a horse was one of the original mistakes of creation.”  Horses were too high off the ground, lacked protection against flies, needed frequent water stops, and not as sure-footed as mules.  Hoover’s dislike of horses was replaced with his use of another animal adapted to navigate desolate terrain: camels.  “He [camel] is even less successful than a horse,” Hoover stated.

George J. Bancroft, a fellow mining engineer, wrote a detailed account of Hoover’s use of camels in the Australian outback for his daughter that explains some of the reasons for Hoover’s opinion:

“In 1898 camels were much in use on the western Australia desert.

Of all the mean, ornery brutes used by man the ordinary ‘heathen camel’ is peculiar, which the same I am free to maintain, with apologies to Bret Hart.  The camels you see in zoos are of a refined and gentle breed.  They are known as ‘riding camels’ in western Australia, but even riding camels are worse than a mean Missouri mule.

Their one redeeming feature is that they can carry 300 lbs. per camel across 50 miles of hot desert without water.  A good mule can carry 200 lbs. 20 miles.  The camel travels 5 miles per hour and the mule 2 ½  miles.

So the Government imported work camels.  Mine managers and engineers bought riding camels.  The work camels were so unmanageable that the miners couldn’t use them, so then the Government imported Afghan camel drivers.  These men grew up with camels and knew how to handle them.  Even so, the Afghans’ bodies were more or less covered with scars from camel bites.

Herbert Hoover had a good riding camel and he often loaned it to me.  The first time he did so he told me the following story by way of educating me.

Hoover had ridden this camel north from Coolgardi to the Sons of Gwalia mine, where there was a good big camp with plenty of good water and feed for camels.

On his next trip he had to go to a mine east of the Sons of Gwalia.  He left Coolgardi on the Sons of Gwalia trail.  When he came to the forks in the trail the camel refused to take the eastern trail.  Hoover could pull his head around till his head faced his tail but he kept on going the Western trail.  Herbert tried the camel whip, which is a severe whip, but it did no good.  Then he got off and tried leading the camel but even with a ring in its nose the camel could soon wear a man out by hanging back.  He tries other expedients but none of them worked.

Time was getting on and water was 25 miles away.

As one last effort Hoover pulled off his black shirt and made a perfect blindfold for the camel, then he rode slowly along the Western trail for a way but gradually swung across the desert to the Eastern trail.  He kept the blindfold on the camel till he had gone about 12 miles.  By this time it was getting dark and it was hard to guide the blindfolded camel.  Herbert took off the blindfold and had no more trouble with his camel.  Maybe the camel smelled water on the night air or maybe he just surrendered to the superior stubbornness of man.

When Herbert got back to Coolgardi he had a very good leather blindfold made, which he loaned me with the camel.

I always put the blindfold on before we reached a fork in the trail and so I had no trouble with the camel.”

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Bleeding Heart and Lily

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Hoover with First Lady Grace Coolidge at the Cedar Lodge - the summer camp of President Coolidge.

Lou Hoover with First Lady Grace Coolidge at the Cedar Lodge – the summer camp of President Coolidge.

The relationship between successive Presidents can sometimes be contentious regardless of political affiliation.  These relationships have been given due attention by historians.  The relationship between successive First Ladies has garnered far less attention, as historians have focused attention on First Ladies individually.

The relationship between Grace Coolidge and Lou Henry Hoover merits some attention.  Four folders of touching correspondence between the two First Ladies is extant in box 12 of the Lou Henry Hoover papers.  The correspondence began in 1923 as a cordial ‘arms-length’ friendship letters between two prominent Washington women.  Over time, the friendship between Grace and Lou deepened, and the letters grew more intimate.

By the time Lou Henry Hoover was First Lady, she and Grace were so close that they addressed each other with nicknames.  To Grace Coolidge Lou was Bleeding Heart. To Lou, Grace was Lily.  In the spring of 1930, the two exchanged hand-written Easter greetings.

Lou initiated the poetic exchange:

‘Oh my fairest Lily, I miss you so
Oh my fairest Lily, when the south winds flow.
When the towering needle points the blue,
When robins and starlings are calling for you.
When thro’ the magnolia the red birds dart,
Oh my fairest Lily, your Bleeding Heart.

The Easter Lily looks out at the rain [umbrellas and galoshes in the East window.]
Oh, my Easter Lily, I wish you were here! [What a pity it is, President’s wives aren’t twins].

[Truth was happier than rhymes in the last line.]’

Grace replied in poetic kind on Easter Sunday, 1930:

‘The Bleeding Heart and the Easter Lily
May not be twins by birth
But they’re closely akin
In love and devotion
And all other ties of Earth.’

Grace commented: “Thus as I attempt to reply in kind, dear Lady, adding my deep appreciation of your loving thoughts of me.”  She closed: ‘To you, my love—I have the honor to be, sincerely your friend, Grace Coolidge.’

This is just one of many civil, erudite exchanges between two uncommon First Ladies.

 

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Lou Hoover’s Critique of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Chicago World's Fair Poster

After leaving the presidency in March 1933, Herbert and Lou Hoover returned to their home in Palo Alto, California.  By nature, they were not homebodies and were always traveling.  Visiting friends in Chicago allowed them to attend the Chicago World’s Fair that used as its theme “A Century of Progress.”  Unlike the 1893 Columbian Exposition that created the “White City” of Beaux-Arts buildings, this fair adopted modernist Art Deco designs that avoided ornamentation and emphasized clean, sharp building outlines.  Lean economic times also forced the creative use of less expensive materials as well as the use of gaseous tube lighting such as neon, krypton, helium, and mercury vapor.  By all accounts, the fair was a success in the midst of growing economic despair.  Nine million visitors spent an estimated four hundred million dollars.  American industrial sponsors invested thirty-two million as exhibitors, found their investment well worth the return.

Sally Rand and her famous feather and bubble dances scandalized “proper” fairgoers but became one of the must-see attractions of the fair.  Long before Jurassic Park, Sinclair Oil Company created a seventy-five foot brontosaurus that moved its head and tail as part of the story on the origins of oil.  General Electric’s House of Magic allowed the public to witness lights without power cords and popcorn created by “microwaves.”  The Sky Ride lifted visitors six hundred and twenty-five feet in the air to view the entire midway and get a clear view of the two-hundred foot high Havoline building styled as an operating thermometer.

Writing to her youngest son, Allan, Lou Hoover expressed her unvarnished opinions of the fair: “My dear, if I had a week to go about this Fair with you at odd times, we would be amused.  As it is, we have been out there three or four times for an hour or two each time—more seen than seeing; and a bit bored.  The architecture is all that it is described—but there seems ample reason for it—parts of it are amusing, parts amazing—most of it dreary, and all singularly reminiscent of Cal[ifornia] Highway architecture as practiced by filling stations and hot dog stands.  At night parts of it are lighted very picturesquely.”

Lou’s comments mirror the Art Deco style used by roadside buildings in the 1930s.  As automobiles and concrete roads such as the Lincoln Highway and Route 66 gave great access to nationwide travel, amenities such as gas stations, cafes, and motels sprouted like topsy to accommodate travelers.  So much of the architecture of the fair was déjà vu for the former First Lady and Californian.

 

 

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Women’s Place in the Present Emergency

by Hoover Archivist, Matthew Schaefer
In honor of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover’s birthday, March 29, 1874

#31-1928-f03 First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

#31-1928-f03 First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

At 5:15 in the evening of Sunday, November 27th, 1932, First Lady Lou Hoover gave an address, ‘Women’s Place in the Present Emergency,’ over the NBC national radio network.  The speech was part of a series of weekly radio talks by the National Women’s Committee of the Welfare and Relief Mobilization to address challenges posed by unemployment in the Great Depression.

Hoover started with the obvious.  Winter is coming.  Men have been out of work for months.  Families were facing the wolf at the door.  She bright-sided the situation by noting that there is enough food, enough clothing, and enough fuel for all Americans and that with efficient cooperation all needs would be met.  Lou Hoover exhorted: “We must give generously, individually, so that generous provision must be made by city and town, by county and state.”

The most significant barrier facing the women’s ability to deal with the present emergency was misplaced pride.  Hoover observed: “The last person in town to ask for help will be the self-respecting man or woman, unemployed for the first time in his or her life.’  It was incumbent on women assisting in this emergency to tactfully approach their neighbors and provide the requisite aid.

Lou Henry Hoover did just that, quietly donating $300 to help the unemployed and their families in Palo Alto in January 1933.  According to online inflation calculators, 300 dollars in 1933 would have more than $5000 purchasing power in 2017.  As was her wont, Hoover asked that this charitable enterprise not be publicly acknowledged.

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Herbert Hoover and the Centennial of American Entry into World War I: Episode II

The ship, Antonio Lopez.

The ship, Antonio Lopez.

By: Matthew Schaefer, Hoover Archivist

The meeting of the Iowa World War I Centennial Committee reminded this Hoover archivist that it was time to pen the monthly installment of the Herbert Hoover saga.  When we left, Hoover was struggling to raise funds in America for the Commission for Relief in Belgium.  German submarines were exacting a deadly toll on trans-Atlantic shipping, and President Wilson was nudging America closer to war.

By early March, Hoover was beginning to lose hope that his fund-raising efforts for the CRB would be effective.  The publication of the Zimmerman telegram [with Germany proffering Mexico inducements to attack America should the United States enter the war on the side of the Allies], Americans were quickly becoming less neutral in thought.  Wilson’s advisor Colonel Edward House told Hoover at a March 7th meeting that: ‘the American people are obsessed with our entry into the war and cannot be brought to think of anything else.’

Stymied in the states and worried about the safety and security of Americans still working Belgium for the CRB, Hoover looked for a passenger ship berth to get back to Europe.  Submarine warfare had reduced Atlantic passenger traffic to a trickle.  The only berth available was on the Spanish boat, Antonio Lopez, described by Hoover as a: “jalopy, some 40 years of age, a cross between a full-rigged sailing ship and a steamboat.” Creaky as it was, the Antonio Lopez embarked for Cadiz on March 13, 1917.

Knowing too well the food shortages faced in Europe, Lou Henry Hoover packed eggs, butter, fresh vegetables and meat for Herbert’s trip.  Hoover’s memoirs noted: “When we asked the steward to put them in cold storage, we learned: that there was none, that there was not a steward on the boat who spoke any language but Spanish, and that the supply of beef, mutton and pork was on its four feet in pens on the forward deck.”  In addition to feeding the passengers, the livestock served as an impromptu orchestra–bleating, mooing and snorting on the uneasy seas; they also provided unpleasant olfactory reminders of their presence on board.  Hoover closed this pungent passage of his memoirs by noting: ”By storing our food resources in my cabin, I also learned that we carried a full cargo of rats and cockroaches.”

Neither the world, nor the war stood still while Hoover was in route to Europe.  In Russia, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, leaving the more democratic Alexander Kerensky as the head of state, thus removing one potential sticking point for American entry into the fight to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’  On the seas, German U-boats sank several American ships in the mid-Atlantic, making it all but inevitable that America would enter the war.  This was cemented when Wilson’s war cabinet voted unanimously in favor of declaring war on Germany on March 20th.

Once on the ground in Europe, Hoover bent his efforts to closing out American involvement on the ground in Belgium with the CRB.  Sensing American entry into the war was imminent, Hoover wanted to secure the safety of his men and see to the smooth transition of decision-making authority of the CRB to the Dutch and Spanish, who were still neutrals.  This was no easy task, but Hoover managed.

Hoover clearly sensed that American entry into the European war was nearly inevitable.  Before departing on the Antonio Lopez, he gave an interview to his friend Will Irwin for the Saturday Evening Post.  Hoover said: “A war of any size in this country would strain our respected old Constitution until it creaked….  Modern warfare is about one part army, one part navy, two parts economics, one or two parts moral forces, and one part finance.  If we are to have war, with its hatreds, its disturbances, its checks to all good causes—perhaps with its spilling of our strongest blood—we should at least have the compensations.  So far as we can, we should check extravagance in living, dress, travel and amusement, and set the people to saving.  It will be good not only for the conduct of the war but for our souls.”

Time would tell whether American entry into the war would be good for our souls.

 

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White House Musicales: The Rest of the Story

By Thomas Schwartz

Having previously noted some of the White House musicales presented during the Hoover Administration, one may ask who was in charge of determining the programs and securing the artists. These tasks were the responsibility, not of a White House staff member, but of Henry Junge at Steinway & Sons piano company.

Actually, Mrs. Hoover was not very enthusiastic about continuing the established tradition. She confided to friends that she thought it embarrassing that the artists were not paid, and that a private company was responsible for the arrangements and expenses. The White House entertainment budget, however, was very limited, so Mrs. Hoover was prepared to pay for the musicales out of her own pocket. (Actually, the Hoovers spent over $600, 000 of their own money on various expenses that were not covered by appropriations, and donated Mr. Hoover’s entire salary to charity – but that’s another story.) But the White House personnel begged her not to end the arrangement with Steinway because previous Presidents, and possibly future Presidents as well, could not afford to pay for the musicales out of pocket.

As time passed, however, Mrs. Hoover became dissatisfied with the programs and artists provided by Mr. Junge. Mrs. Hoover preferred American musicians, but Junge often scheduled foreign artists who were visiting the United States. Mrs. Hoover also complained that Junge sometimes had to switch programs at short notice when the originally scheduled artists backed out. Mrs. Hoover attempted, through some friends in New York, to quietly and diplomatically end the relationship with the Steinway & Sons, but the company, and Mr. Junge personally, were so proud of their role and so emotionally invested, that severing the arrangement would have been profoundly embarrassing. So Mrs. Hoover acquiesced, and Mr. Junge continued to arrange the musicales throughout the Hoover Administration.

White House Musicales: Part II

As noted previously, the Hoovers continued the tradition, which began during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, of sponsoring concerts or “musicales” at the White House, usually following important dinners or receptions. The Hoovers’ tastes, and therefore the programming, tended toward classical music. Programs, guest lists, and other documentation for many of these musicales are preserved in the Lou Henry Hoover Papers at the Hoover Library. Unfortunately, as far as we know, none of the programs were recorded or photographed.

The majority of musicales held at the Hoover White House consisted of a vocalist paired with an instrumentalist. On January 23, 1930, a musicale following a judicial reception featured violinist Jascha Heifetz and contralto Margaret Matzenauer. Matzenauer was a Metropolitan Opera star at the twilight of her career; she would retire later that year. Heifetz was a young, internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso entering his prime.

Margaret Matzenauer

Jascha Heifetz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following a diplomatic dinner on January 8, 1931, a musicale featured pianist Vladimir Horowitz and soprano Claire Dux. Dux was an opera star who sang frequently in Chicago and Europe; at the time of her White House performance she was married to Charles H. Swift of the Swift meatpacking family. Horowitz was a renowned Ukrainian pianist, who like Heifetz, was an ascending young star. Unlike Heifetz, however, who had left Russia before the Communist Revolution, Horowitz had escaped from the Soviet Union in 1925 on the pretense of studying abroad. Both became American citizens, Heifetz in 1925 and Horowitz in 1944.

Vladimir Horowitz

Claire Dux

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Hitching a Ride with a President

By Thomas Schwartz

John Wade Gordon stood along a hot, dusty California highway not far from Petaluma hoping to hitch a ride to Sausalito ferry about forty miles south.  Gordon had relocated to California from Memphis, Tennessee is search of better prospects.  It was August 24, 1933.  Hungry and in need of employment, Gordon hoped his remaining 92 cents would hold out until he could reach a friend in the San Francisco area.  As the sun grew hotter, the cars continued to ignore Gordon’s extended thumb hoping to attract a modern-day Good Samaritan.  As Gordon recalled, “a big shiny car came rolling along and I thought there was no use in flagging that one.  But after it had passed a hundred feet or so it stopped and a chauffeur came back to me and said I might ride.”  Climbing in the front seat next to the driver, Gordon was surprised to be greeted by a voice from the back of the vehicle.  Turing around, he immediately recognized Herbert Hoover.  Returning from Bohemian Grove, Hoover was on his way back to his home in Palo Alto.

Gordon was surprised how friendly and engaging a President could be to a young stranger sporting a heavy Southern accent.  Working as a mechanic to raise the money for the trip, describing his trek to California from Tennessee, and detailing his hopes for a better job in the Golden State, Gordon extolled Hoover with his life story as well as his dreams and aspirations for the future.  Hoover ears perked at the mention of one of Gordon’s relatives, former Governor of Mississippi Earl Brewer as well as Senator Pat Harrison who was a close friend of his mother.  Arriving at the ferry, Hoover suggested that Gordon join him for a bite to eat guessing that the hitch hiker needed a good meal.  Over lunch, Hoover offered some advice about securing employment.  According to Gordon, Hoover’s parting words were: “Well, son, I am going to take a chance on you.  You have an honest face.  I’ll give you a little money for a new outfit.  Get yourself some clothes and put an advertisement in the newspapers.  You say you can drive a car, perhaps you could get work as a driver.”  Hoover offered to write a letter of recommendation to prospective employers, wrote down the address of Gordon’s friend where the letter could be sent, handed Gordon a business card and a hundred dollar bill for a new outfit of clothes and to carry Gordon over until he was employed.

Not reported at the time was the difficulty Gordon had in purchasing a suit of clothing.  Suspicion arose with the salesperson by a young man without means being in possession of a hundred dollar bill.  Gordon explained his story to the police and showed them Hoover’s card.  A quick call to Hoover immediately resolved any questions.

True to his word, Hoover contacted some friends and secured employment for Gordon with the New York Life Insurance Company.  Hoover served on the board of directors for the company.  When Gordon tried to repay his debt to Hoover, the President refused payment.  It took Gordon’s mother to write Hoover a letter of rebuke, chastising him for not allowing her son to be a responsible adult in honoring his debt obligations.  Assuaging Mrs. Gordon’s wrath, Hoover accepted repayment from her son John.  Over the years, John would drop Hoover a short letter providing brief progress reports.  The two continued to correspond over the years in what became a rather warm friendship.  Responding to Gordon on October 29, 1954, Hoover wrote: “Thank you indeed for yours of the 9th which just reaches me here in New York.  That was certainly a well-invested $100—which you paid back both in money and success.”

John Wade Gordon died on March 25, 1961 in Okinawa.  At the time of death, Gordon was the Pacific Division Manager for the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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On Centennial Celebrations

By Matthew Schaefer

31-hhpc-b32-f13001

Note from President Woodrow Wilson during the war regarding feeding people in Belgium.

While driving back from a Des Moines meeting of the Iowa World War I Centennial Committee, it occurred to this Hoover Archivist that a series of monthly posts might be in order to describe the activities of Herbert Hoover as America edged closer to war.  Consider this episode one.

Hoover had spent the first thirty months of the Great War organizing and running the Commission for Relief in Belgium [CRB].  The mission of the CRB was to feed the nine million citizens of Belgium and northern France who faced famine trapped behind the entrenched German army and the British naval blockade.   Hoover ran the CRB as private citizen from a neutral nation, negotiating safe passage of food and relief goods into the war zone.  This was the largest famine relief effort to date and it entailed logistical and diplomatic maneuvering as well as considerable sums of money.

By January 1917, Hoover realized that the CRB’s ongoing needs for money would soon outstrip fundraising efforts.  He returned to the United States to embark on a drive to raise $150 million to sustain the CRB over the next year.  Before Hoover can get underway, events overtake him.  At the beginning of February 1917, Germany declares that it will begin a campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, unleashing its U-boats to attack shipping without warning.  Germany hoped that this strategy would so severely disrupt Allied supplies that they would sue for peace.

Hoover recognized the gravity this threat represented to the CRB.  At best supply lines would be stretched, at least CRB ships may be sunk and food lost, at worst America might enter the war and all Hoover’s agreements regarding the CRB’s special status would be voided.  Hoover stayed the course, giving a series of public talks to raise funds, knowing that the issue might be rendered moot.

Never at ease as a public speaker, Hoover pushed on: speaking to the New York Chamber of Commerce in early February, addressing the Committee on National Defense on Lincoln’s birthday, holding forth to the National Geographic Society on February 17th, speaking to his colleagues at the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, and culminating in an address to the New York State Legislature on February 28th.

The February 28, 1917 address is item # 1 in the compilation of articles, addresses and speeches that Hoover’s staff affectionately referred to as the ‘Bible.’  This speech, echoing those earlier in the month, called on Americans to ‘preserve rigid neutrality’ and to step up contributions to the CRB.  Hoover pointed out that American contributions [per capita] lagged behind all Allied nations, with Canada contributing twice as much!  Hoover asked his audience to imagine themselves in Belgium–movement restricted by the occupying German army, no contact with the outside world, factories closed, and limited food.  To drive this last point home, Hoover had arranged to make his presentation while serving the legislators a Belgian lunch of soup, bread and one slice of bacon, a baseline of subsistence costing 7 cents per citizen per day.

Hoover throws down the gauntlet: ‘There are millions of helpless people whom America, and America alone, could save.  Not only was this our duty, it was our privilege.  It was our privilege to forfend infinite suffering for these millions of people, to save millions of lives…  It was our opportunity to demonstrate that great strain of humanity and idealism which saved our Republic.  We could throw a gleam of sunshine into the sweltering dungeon in which Europe has been plunged.’

How did American respond to this unequivocal challenge?  Will Hoover succeed in raising enough funds to feed an entire country for a year?  Will German U-boats thwart these ambitions?  Will Woodrow Wilson continue to keep America out of war?  Tune in next month.

 

 

 

 

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Tempest in a Teapot – Lou Henry Hoover and the DePriest Tea Incident

By: Spencer Howard

jesse-depriest-smithsonian2

Jessie DePriest.  Image courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

When Lou Henry Hoover became First Lady in 1929, one of her main responsibilities was to coordinate the social functions at the White House, and the first major event on her agenda was to invite the wives of the members of Congress to the White House for tea.  The Congressional teas served as an opportunity to introduce the wives of newly elected Congressmen to Washington society.  The guest list actually ran to over 600 ladies, not just wives but also daughters, nieces, granddaughters and sisters of members of Congress – any woman or young lady who derived her social status from her connection to a member of Congress.  Such a large number necessitated a coordinated series of teas rather than one large event.

Mrs. Hoover faced an unusually delicate situation – for the first time in 30 years, an African-American had been elected to Congress, and both political and social Washington were abuzz with the implications.

Oscar Stanton DePriest was the son of former slaves, born in 1871 in Florence, Alabama.  He settled in 1889 in Chicago’s Second Ward, a predominantly African American community, and became a successful businessman.  In 1914, he was the first African American to be elected to the Chicago City Council.  When Rep. Martin Madden, who represented Chicago’s South Side, died unexpectedly in April 1928, DePriest was chosen by the local Republican committee to replace Madden on the November ballot.  DePriest won the five-way contest with 48% of the vote.

When the new Congress convened in April 1929, Southerners sought to prevent DePriest from being seated by blocking the swearing-in of the entire Illinois delegation.  Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth decided to swear in the entire House as one body – swearing in all members at one time, he explained, would preserve the decorum of the ceremony.  Of course the hostility did not end once DePriest had been seated.  North Carolina Democrat George Pritchard refused to occupy an office next to DePriest, and other Southerners declined to serve on any committee with DePriest.

Mrs. Hoover and her social secretary, Mary Randolph, were fully aware of the situation and approached the Congressional teas with caution, but there was no doubt that Mrs. Jessie DePriest would be included.  They arranged five teas.  The first, on May 27, 1929, hosted the wives of the ranking members.  The next three divided the remainder of the list alphabetically, with a few individuals out of sequence when they were not available for their assigned date:  A-H on May 29, H-O on June 4, and O-Z on June 6.  Jessie DePriest did not receive and invitation for May 29.  Instead, she was quietly invited to a fifth tea, on June 12.

The June 12 tea was a small affair, just fourteen guests — the wives of some of President Hoover’s cabinet members; the wives of three members of Congress from New York, Pennsylvania, and California; Mrs. Hoover’s sister, Mrs. Jean Henry Large; and Mrs. Hoover’s personal secretary, Ruth Fesler.  At least two of the women had already attended one of the earlier teas.  One man attended with his wife — James C. Dunn, who was the Chief of Protocol for the State Department.

When word got out, the tea became national news and a scandal in the South.  Mrs. DePriest’s attendance as an invited guest at a White House social function accorded her social legitimacy, and by implication, equal standing with the white guests.

The President’s staff immediately sought to limit the political damage.  Hoover’s press secretary insisted that Mrs. Hoover’s teas were actually official events, not social ones.  Rep. DePriest, however, used the opportunity to make a statement about black equality.  He told the press he was “immensely gratified” that his wife had received social recognition from the White House.  “My wife enjoyed the experience and the social contacts very much,” he said.  “She was treated excellently and there was no indication of a desire to discriminate in her case.  Naturally, she is very much pleased with the whole affair.”

Condemnation rolled in from the South.  Editorials from the region ranged from scathing to hysterical.  The Texas legislature voted to formally censure Mrs. Hoover for inviting Mrs. DePriest to the White House.  The legislatures of Georgia, Mississippi and Florida passed similar resolutions.  Northern and Midwestern newspapers wondered what the uproar was all about, and the black press throughout the nation spoke in glowing terms of Mrs. Hoover’s action.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Hoover received hundreds of letters from all over the country commenting on the event.  Most, but not all, from the South expressed anger, disappointment or shame.  Letters from the rest of the country were overwhelmingly positive, even congratulatory.  Over time, the furor faded, but the political repercussions, especially in the South, continued through President Hoover’s failed bid for reelection in 1932.  As for Lou Henry Hoover, the 1929 Congressional teas were the only Congressional teas she hosted for the remainder of her husband’s Presidency.

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Documenting the Hoover Marriage of February 10, 1899

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Unlike Hoover’s birthday that remained a contested issue until 1924, Herbert “Bert” Hoover’s marriage to Lou Henry on February 10, 1899 has never been questioned.  Most of the accounts of the event were recalled years later resulting in conflicting information.  An earlier blog post on February 10, 2016, “The Hoover Wedding Scandal,” provides a clear summary of the problems.  One of the questions in response to that blog post was whether the marriage license was among Hoover’s papers.  It was not.  By shear serendipity, we received a phone call from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno in November, 2016 asking us if we were interested in receiving Herbert and Lou’s marriage license.  The answer was an immediate “YES!”  But the question all of the archivists asked is “how did it get there?”

Herbert Hoover, a Quaker, and Lou Henry, an Episcopalian, intended to have Dr. William Thoburn, a professor at Stanford as well as a Methodist minister, perform the ceremony.  His death, weeks before the wedding, required an alternate plan.  Father Ramon Mestres, an old family friend of the Henrys, was asked if he could preside over the marriage in a civil ceremony.  Arrangements proceeded with the marriage ceremony taking place in the Henry home in Monterey, Father Mestres performing a civil ceremony.  The next day, the couple boarded a ship for China, where Bert’s new job awaited his arrival.  Father Mestres filed the marriage with the Monterey County Recorder.  What is unknown is why the license was never forwarded on to Bert and Lou Hoover?

Marriage license of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover.

Marriage license of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover.

What follows is conjecture based upon sparse evidence.  Father Mestres died in the Monterey area on August 5, 1930.  The Reverend James H. Culleton, an assistant of the Vicar General for the Dioceses, secured many of the papers from the Mestres estate, the Hoover marriage license being among the items.  Perhaps Father Mestres intended to send it to the Hoovers once they got settled in China, or kept it for safety reasons until they returned for a family visit.  Like so many things in life that we intend to do but remain undone with new concerns of each passing day, Mestres may have simply forgotten he had it among his papers.  Reverend Culleton, an avid collector and scholar of local history, placed the Hoover marriage license in one of ten scrapbooks he created, one dealing with Monterey area records.  The scrapbooks were placed in the diocese archives in the 1930s since Reverend Culleton became Chancellor of the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno.  They were rediscovered in 1996.  Because these scrapbooks and the records within them transcended the scope of the diocese archives, there was debate on whether to keep and accession them or find appropriate public archives which would be a more logical fit.  The decision for the latter approach explains why the document now resides with the other papers of Herbert and Lou Hoover in West Branch, Iowa.

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