by Matthew Schaefer
In the course of her life, Lou Henry Hoover gave many addresses to graduating classes: Radcliffe, Bryn Mawr and Whittier Colleges, Stanford University, and Castilla high school. The first time that she spoke to a graduating class occurred in 1890, when sixteen year old Lou Henry spoke as valedictorian to her Bailey Street School classmates in Whittier, California.
Her speech fills seven pages of a school notebook with her precise penmanship. The scattered cross-outs and penciled revisions are evidence that this was a polished draft. Lou Henry chose as her theme ‘Little Jack Horner’ noting that all in attendance were more or less familiar with this Mother Goose character, his Christmas pie, and his proclivity for thumb-plucking plums.
Lou Henry uses Jack Horner as a point of departure in examining the futures of her classmates. She notes that: ‘We are all little Jacks, and the pie from which we are so greedily picking is our own great wide world.’ Lou ponders how her classmates will handle the opportunities before them. Will they gently raise the crust and take only selected plums? Will they be bold and grab hold with both hands as many plums as they can carry? Will they be patient as they explore the depths of the pie, carefully judging each plum on its merits?
Lou Henry closes with a profound and provocative question: ‘Shall we share equally in the pie, or shall one, by more toil, or cunning, secure a larger portion, and, swelling with pride, look down upon the rest and exclaim, ‘What a great boy am I!’’ This question reveals something of the breadth of young Lou’s mind; just as it reveals something of the depth of her compassion.
This speech has not been cited by Lou Henry Hoover biographers because it was tucked behind the framed diploma marking her graduation. The speech was discovered when the Hoover museum staff disassembled the frame to removed acidic matting. The speech now rests in box 73 of the Lou Henry Hoover papers in the Hoover archives where it is available to researchers for the first time in more than one hundred years.