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?
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.