National Proposal Day! What will they think of next? I know from personal experience that my memory of proposing to my wife does not align with her memory of the event. No matter, we’re still happily married 30+ years on. The Hoovers have similarly unaligned stories regarding Herbert’s proposal to Lou Henry. Doubtless memory is mercurial, even for such life-changing events. Still there are enough points in common to see the kernel of truth.
When Herbert Hoover told the tale of his proposal in volume one of his memoirs, he placed the story in the context of his career development as a mining engineer. After enjoying success in the Western Australian gold fields, he was offered a more responsible position and higher salary running Bewick Moering’s operations in China. Not trusting the weeks-long process of mailing a letter, Hoover cabled Lou Henry ‘asking if she would agree that the time had come to be married and go to China.’
Lou Henry Hoover did not write memoirs, nor do her papers here shed much light on this proposal. The closest we come is Evelyn Wight Allan’s eulogy for Lou Hoover in the February 1944 issue of The Key, the Kappa Kappa Gamma magazine. Evelyn tells the story of meeting Lou at Stanford in 1895, sharing a rooming house and outdoor adventures for the next three years, and finding a friend for life. Noting that it often took months for a letter to travel from Australia to the United States, Evelyn said that Hoover cabled: ‘Going to China via San Francisco. Will you marry me?’ Allan goes on to say that the new postal worker, thinking ‘Lou’ was a man, posted the cable on the rooming house bulletin board. This provided much amusement to Lou’s friends who enjoyed this novel proposal of marriage.
A third version of the story is offered by J. W. Kirwan, writing a puff piece on Herbert Hoover for the Western Australian. After detailing Hoover’s mining genius in exploiting opportunities in the Australian Outback, Kirwan tells of Hoover’s departure to London en route to China. He reports that Hoover took the time to cable Lou from the Perth offices of Bewick Moering. According to eye witness reports, Hoover’s cable contained four words: ‘Will you marry me?’ The model of efficiency, even in matters of the heart, Hoover wasted no words.
Finally there is a June 28, 1929 letter from one of Mrs. Hoover’s secretaries to Wayne Whipple, author of a book, The Story of the White House. The secretary calls to Whipple’s attention an error on page 153 regarding ‘the matter of fictitious quick engagement by cable from Australia.’ The secretary comments that the Hoovers laugh off these romantic tales as theirs was an engagement of long standing. The cable simply detailed a change in date and destination as the return trip would be to China rather than Australia.
Doubtless there are kernels of truth in each of these stories– which may be why George Nash cites all three in his biography of Hoover. We’ll never know the exact phrasing used by Hoover in his cable, but we can be certain that Lou accepted the proposal as they wed in February 1899 and enjoyed 45 years together.