Lou Hoover and the Early Days of World War I

London, 1914, American Women’s Committee. Lou Hoover is sitting at the table, the fourth one from the right.

Last month we made a presentation to our local Questers group. They are big fans of Lou Hoover, so they asked us to speak on Lou and relief work during World War I.  I felt that we’d covered all the ground in our prior two presentations to the Questers, but my colleague challenged me to find something new and different to share.  As usual, Lou Hoover did not disappoint.

I read Hoover’s September 30, 1914, speech to the Resident American Women’s War Relief Committee. This was the closing meeting of the group, and Lou’s remarks were ‘the only speech of the never elected chairman.’  She waxed eloquently about the work of sixty women, who volunteered for eight weeks, ‘doing an uncomfortable amount of good work.’  Lou commented that there was never any dissension; all were focused on the goals of raising money to send Americans home.

Lou Hoover also took the time to compile an eight-page description of the committee ‘when the organization was in complete working order.’  She then detailed the work of each woman, described where their desks were in the lobby of the Savoy Hotel, and closed by noting the hours each woman worked.  This vivid report allows us to see that: Mrs. A. T. Stewart was in charge of financial assistance; Mrs. J. W. Dickson handled special cases—illness, temporary mental derangement, death; Mrs. Agius and Mrs. Davenport tended passports and credentials; others managed clothing, housing and transportation.  Lou Hoover’s role was ‘chiefly as a court of appeal, and never did ten minutes of the day pass that more than one case had not come up for decision.’

The Questers enjoyed seeing both of these documents, but wanted to know how this chapter of Lou’s life ended.  Anticipating this question, I had already pulled a copy of Lou’s resignation letter to the Duchess of Malborough.  In it, Lou commends the work of the committee, but resigns because she would be in California for some weeks, ‘the length of time really depends on the course of the War,’ and felt they should have ‘an officer who was not on the far side of the globe!’  As the work of ensuring safe passage home for Americans had been completed, Lou then suggests that the committee next focus its attention on the creation of a hospital for women and children in Ypres, Belgium.  Not surprisingly, Lou had two women in mind to manage this hospital.

At this point, nothing Lou Hoover did in her varied and accomplished life should surprise me.

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