Lou Henry Hoover’s involvement with the Girl Scouts spanned decades. Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts, recruited Lou Hoover in 1917 to serve as Acting Commissioner in Washington DC. Hoover described her involvement as ‘very casual’ through the end of World War I. She then made a careful study of how best to spend her time promoting recreational and educational activities for young women. Hoover concluded that Girl Scouts afforded the best organization to promote outdoor physical activity, leadership and community service for girls. She wrote: ‘There was just no comparison possible between Girl Scouts and other organizations of its class.’
After reaching this conclusion, Lou Hoover devoted her considerable talents and formidable energy to making Girl Scouts a dynamic national agency. She served as a local troop leader, worked with the national organization, recruited leaders and was a potent fund-raiser. Hoover persuaded First Lady Grace Coolidge to meet with the local troop, vastly increasing public awareness of Girl Scouting. Lou’s greatest contribution was fund-raising, a task which she despised. Despite her reservations, Lou secured more than $500,000 from the American Relief Administration for Girl Scouts. She was also instrumental in getting a grant of $500,000 from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Foundation to train scout leaders. Lou saw leadership as vital to the success of Girl Scouts. Hoover was adamant that scout leaders not be ‘school teacherish.’ She promoted leading from behind, so that Girl Scouts would be confident and independent.
As First Lady, Lou Hoover was the Honorary President of the Girl Scouts of America. This was not an empty title for Lou. She worked tirelessly to promote scouts, involving them in community service to ease the pain of the Depression, creating the Girl Scout Little House to promote responsibility, and fostering the Lone Scout program so that rural girls had the same opportunity to benefit from scouting. Throughout, Lou encouraged her charges: ‘Don’t forget the joy!’
In April 1937, Lou Hoover addressed Girl Scouts in Davenport, Iowa: ‘Of course it is a great joy for me to be coming to a Girl Scout meeting in Iowa, for I did my very first scouting in my world right here in Iowa! My first camping, my first cooking and eating outdoors, my first night sleeping under the stars, my first canoeing and fishing…. I was a Girl Scout before Girl Scouting.’