Lou Hoover’s Reflections on Reflectors

Shortly after her return to the United States to enroll her two young sons in school, Lou Hoover received an urgent telegram from her husband.  Herbert Hoover, the head of the newly created Commission for Relief in Belgium [CRB], outlined the dire situation in Belgium: “OVER ONE MILLION PEOPLE ON BREAD LINE IN BELGIUM AT PRESENT MOMENT WITH SUPPLIES ESTIMATED TO LAST FROM ONE TO THREE WEEKS WHILE WE ARE SECURING SOME SUPPLIES HERE FOR EMERGENCY PURPOSES REAL SITUATION CANNOT BE MET WITHOUT DIRECT EXPORTS FROM STATES AND WE SHALL REQUIRE UPWARDS OF TWENTY THOUSAND TONS FOODSTUFFS MONTHLY… WE WANT FOOD NOT CLOTHES AS THIS IS QUESTION STARVATION AND BELGIANS CAN CLOTHE THEMSELVES FOR THE PRESENT I CAN THINK OF NO GREATER CONTRIBUTION TO THIS OCCASION OF WORLDS STRESS THAN A FOOD SHIP FROM CALIFORNIA AND IF POSSIBLE ONE FROM OREGON AND ANOTHER FROM WASHINGTON IT MIGHT BE POINTED OUT THAT OUR COMMISSION IS LARGELY CALIFORNIAN AND THAT WE SHOULD HAVE SUPPORT OF OUR OWN STATE COULD ALSO MAKE SAME CLAIM AS TO OREGON IN MY CONNECTION.”

#31-1914-7 Lou Henry Hoover with the American Relief Committee.

#31-1914-7 Lou Henry Hoover with the American Relief Committee.

It is impossible to know Lou’s reaction to receiving this cable.  Like much of their marriage, Lou was constantly adapting to new and unfamiliar circumstances.  Whether it be setting up home in the desolate and far reaches of the globe or learning a new language to communicate in foreign lands, Lou accepted every challenge with energy and grace.  She never saw herself as an accomplished public speaker but she assumed the role to advocate on behalf of the needs of the CRB.  Her papers contain numerous undated drafts, outlines, and fragments of speeches dealing with war relief.  It is likely that the following is an attempt by Lou to show how individuals can make a difference in confronting seemingly insurmountable problems:

            “It is a cold evening. A very small electric heater is providing ample warmth in a small room.  Its construction is interesting.  The coil of wire at its core is small, the heat it provides is not great.  But it is set in the center of a reflector constructed to concentrate and throw out the utmost possible amount of heat developed by the coil.
The difference in effect upon this room by the use of this powerful reflector as compared with the little coil of electrified wire unaided, is astounding.
The same principles exactly could be applied to what each one of us read, see, hear, think and pass on regarding any subject in which we are interested. [We may even be as tho’ surrounded by a soft black absorbent surface instead of a reflector, absorbing, consuming the generated rays which come our way, instead of reflecting them].  They may simply pass through the coil system of our intelligence, warming us on their way perhaps, or even inducing a faint glow in us observable to anyone in the immediate vicinity, or if we are running a well-planned reflector system we may be radiating warmth over a very considerable area, cheering, encouraging, stimulating members beyond our knowledge.  The same figure of course may be developed with light waves.  Electricity is led so ingeniously that incandescent wire, that it in itself thus provides usually enough light for the purpose concerned.  But in the old days of earlier lighting the improvement it was amazing that a well designed reflector gave to a single candle or oil wick.”

Through the efforts of Lou and “reflecting” her zeal to engage others in the cause, the State of California raised a total of $598,484.94 for the CRB from 1914 to 1919.  As she later wrote, “When the victors shout, ‘We have won! We have won because we killed so many hundreds of thousands of our enemies, and so many hundreds of thousands of our own!’ America will whisper—‘And we have saved as many million!

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