The Second Purpose of Hoover’s 1928 Goodwill Tour

Herbert and Lou Hoover pose in front of USS Maryland’s guns during the 1928 Goodwill Tour.

Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover were experienced travelers when they embarked on their trip to Latin America in late November 1928.  This was not the case for many of their fellow travelers.  Lou Hoover felt that it was incumbent on her to bring everyone up to speed by distributing a three-page typed memorandum on the mission of the tour ‘Good will of Latin American republics’

The memo started with bullet points on how to attain this mission: 1. Expression of good will by the very fact of the trip itself which is a compliment; 2. By individual courtesy and tact of all Americans with the party; 3. By gaining individual prestige through the showing of a smart naval force.  Lou then explains in detail how each member of the party serve to advance the mission.  The Chief will carry the message first and foremost.  The crew will take care of the Navy’s side of the matter.  ‘Civilians of the party, however, have more power than they realize to affect by the impression they make for good or for ill.’

This was followed by general rules for dealing with the Latin American psyche.  1. Forget your reticence when handing out compliments.  2. Leave out of your conversation any suggestion of the relative importance of the U.S. in relation to the country we’re visiting.  3. If you carry into these countries any ‘n*****-white man’ attitude of superiority, for God’s sake forget it. 4. Down here refer to yourself as ‘North American.’ These people are also Americans and proud of it.  5. Remember that it is better to offer a clumsy, awkward or obviously untrue compliment, than no compliment at all.

Thus informed, the Hoovers and their traveling companions embarked on a six-week, eleven-country tour of Latin America.  One can only hope that the general outlines of this memo were heeded, and that no one in the party left the impression of the ugly American traveler.

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