Lou Henry Hoover and the Translation of De Re Metallica

Lou Henry Hoover, 31-1928-f03

A recent Hoover blog described Herbert Hoover’s speech upon accepting the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America’s Gold Medal for his contribution in translating and republishing Agricola’s De Re Metallica.  Herbert Hoover traced the history of the mining profession, beginning with Vulcan, continuing through Thucydides and Jeremiah, before closing with the observation that German mining communities were protean democracies.  Taken all together, the speech was ambitious, erudite, and a reflection of the mettle of the man that wrote it.

If you recall, Herbert Hoover did not act alone in translating Agricola.  Half the work was borne by his wife, Lou Henry Hoover.  She was justly awarded the same Gold Medal from the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America.  Lou Henry Hoover was the first woman to be awarded this medal, and the last woman to be so honored for more than eighty years.  Like her husband, Lou was called upon to give a speech upon receiving the gold medal.

Where Herbert’s speech was broad in scope, Lou’s was more informal.  It is a touching speech, downplaying the superlatives about the quality of their joint efforts.  Lou does acknowledge that the translation of De Re Metallica was a big thing.  Most importantly, she discovered that she could persevere in the ‘unraveling of this great tangle of knotted string.’  She graciously thanks the Society for this medal, explaining that she was touched, grateful and surprised in equal measure.

She closes her remarks by noting this medal will rehabilitate her in the eyes of her family:  ‘I have a small boy who a few years ago began to measure the world in terms of cups and medals.  And when at the age of six he won his gymnasium class’ silver medal for the running high jump –a 2’7”-he came home with pleasant curiosity the medals possessed by other members of the family.  And Father’s and Mother’s  position has not been as assured as it should have been since.  This will help most materially in adjusting the desire balance in the family.’

If you look closely at the photograph of the March 9, 1914 award ceremony at the Biltmore, you’ll see that Lou is at the head table, carefully reading something as the photograph is taken.  It may be a menu or a program for the evening’s festivities, but I like to think it is a copy of the speech that she was about to present.  Always a careful wordsmith, I surmise that Lou’s penciled note at the top of her typed draft was added just before speaking: ‘An impromptu reply to be made if called on at the Gold Medal dinner.’

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