In a recent blog, I summarized Lou Hoover’s long involvement with the Girl Scouts. In doing so, I gave scant attention to some significant firsts. Among these was the creation of the first Little House for Girl Scouts. A photograph with this recent blog showed Grace Coolidge and Lou Hoover at the re-dedication of this building on March 25, 1924.
There are four folders of material on the Girl Scouts Little House in box 209 of the Lou Henry Hoover papers. They provide intriguing details about the depth of Lou Hoover’s involvement. The building was constructed as a demonstration Little House by the Better Homes in America [BHA] in 1923. Herbert Hoover was a motive force behind the BHA: ‘It is in the home that character and high ideals are best developed. The right kind of home-life makes for true success in life, and means progress for the nation as a whole.’
Lou Hoover shared this sentiment. When the BHA began to disassemble their demonstration house, Lou stepped in and persuaded them to donate the house to the Girl Scouts in order to give the local scouts a venue to promote skills as homemakers, hosts, and managers of house and garden. Lou Hoover’s impact on the Little House was from the ground up. She corresponded with architect Donn Barber about the foundation and how to situate the house on the lot at 1750 New York Avenue. She worked with the plumber, contractor and gardener to ensure the house would serve the Girl Scouts well.
No detail of interior furnishing escaped Lou’s attention, including selecting material for the Little House library which started with a twenty-volume encyclopedia for children and ended with more than two hundred works of fiction, non-fiction and young adult books. These included works by Jane Austen and the Brontes; Hardy, Melville and Hawthorne; Dostoevsky and Tolstoy; Mary Shelley and Thomas Mann. It also included Charles and Mary Beard’s Rise of American Civilization, H. G. Wells’ Outline of History, and Bruce Barton’s The Man Nobody Knows.
The presence of Lou Hoover and Grace Coolidge at the re-dedication ceremony was just the first step. They returned to the Little House, with their husbands, in November 1925 for the opening of National Girl Scout Week. The Coolidges and Hoovers, joined the by presidents of the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts were served a lunch prepared by the scouts. The meal included soup, salad, roasted turkey, carrots and onions, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. The young hosts observed all the proper protocols in serving the distinguished guests, and enjoyed a brief post-prandial visit before President Coolidge departed citing the press of his duties. Lou Hoover wrote that Girl Scouts achieved their goal of ‘achieving beauty and joy by true simplicity.’ The idea of Girl Scout Little House caught on. By 1930, there were more than seventy Girl Scout Little Houses across America.