by Matthew Schaefer
Every spring, certain recursive features appear on the American landscape—crocuses, April showers, Easter bonnets, and elders addressing students on college campuses. On May 16th 1920, Lou Henry Hoover made her contribution to this annual tradition, giving a short address to the women of Bryn Mawr College.
As was her wont, Lou Hoover chose her words carefully. Her aim was to inspire these young women, not to hector them. She began by asking them to recognize the gift they’d been given with a Bryn Mawr College education; then challenging them to not just finish and drop by the wayside. With great knowledge came great responsibility. Lou exhorted the young Mawr-tyrs to take advantage of what they’d acquired at college and to use their ‘increased ability to get the most and best joy out of life.’
Not wishing to spawn a generation of hedonists, Lou Hoover advised the students to keep in mind their consequent obligations to the larger community,, ‘to this great picture-puzzle that is America,’ and to ‘become a center for radiating the Bryn Mawr spirit’ into government affairs. Hoover cautioned the students not to view politics as partisan intrigue, but as a matter of highest principles.
Lou Henry Hoover closed her remarks by weighing in on the ‘current event’ of women’s suffrage: “That we have the vote means nothing. That we use it in the right way means everything. Our political work has only begun when we use the ballot. We sincerely trust you are not taking your precious little light away to burn under a bushel basket, but [that] you will put it behind a great magnifying lens instead, so that it may shine for all.”
This clarion call to action rings as true today as it did in 1920.