Lou Henry Hoover on the Middle Class

by Matthew Schaefer

When I give presentations to the general public within the friendly confines of the Hoover Library, I make it a point to show and share manuscripts from our collections.  This is the first visit to a Presidential Library for many in my audience.  Showing a folder with drafts of Herbert Hoover speeches, a photo album on Mississippi flood relief, or correspondence between Rose Wilder Lane and Laura Ingalls Wilder on how best to write ‘By the Shores of Silver Lake’ is the most effective way I know to draw the distinction between a library and an archive.  Being something of a fan-boy, I always include something from the Lou Henry Hoover papers.

When sharing Lou Henry Hoover items, I am always struck by her depth of thinking, breadth of social consciousness and clarity of writing.  I tell my audience that I could open any one of the more than 400 boxes in the Lou Hoover papers and find something worthy of a blog.  Today’s blog derives from the last folder in box 80 of the Lou Hoover subject files.

Lou Henry Hoover sitting at the “Monroe Desk” ithat was reproduced for the White House collection. ca 1931

The folder is titled ‘Articles, Addresses, and Speeches: The Middle Class, undated’ and it contained a five-page hand-written essay that begins: ‘Worthy of an editorial—or an article—our middle class.’  Lou Hoover then writes: ‘We are all middle class, the happiest, most fortunate class the world has ever seen, and there are more than 100,000,000 of us.  We should become class conscious, we should recognize our class, we should know or learn and remember how we came to be it.’  She then goes on to offer insights into the nature of the American middle class, its relationship to the lower class, the criminal class, and the upper class, which contained the ‘much smaller class, criminally over-rich.’

Lou eventually turns her attention to answering the question: ‘Who are the middle class?’  She writes: ‘They are the people who are, or who have been, or who are going to be, according to their age, living the free and independent, well-educated existence, earning their living for themselves and their dependents, having all the necessities and comforts of life… and its due share of luxuries.’  She then asks: ‘What do they possess, to acquire these advantages?’  Then answers: ‘Everything.  They take their part in producing these very things for themselves and others.’

Thus, with this tight little argument, Lou Hoover asks and answers questions that have long perplexed sociologists, economists and historians.  Unfortunately, she must not have been satisfied with her essay.  It was never published.  All we are left with is the hand-written draft and conjecture.

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