Anna Phillips, of West Union, Iowa, wrote to Mrs. Herbert Hoover on October 4, 1929: ‘We small town folk of Iowa, are trying eagerly to gather authentic information about some of the policies President Hoover is bringing to public attention…. Our Woman’s Club has an October 23rd program discussing Our President and His South American trip.’ Mrs. Phillips acknowledged that matters of state would prevent President Hoover from replying, but trusted that it would not be presumptuous to request ‘something brief in the way of descriptive information’ from the First Lady.
First Lady Lou Hoover was busy entertaining British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald, Lady Isabelle MacDonald and their daughter at Camp Rapidan and at the White House during these October days. Lou had her secretary, Ruth Fesler, reply to Mrs. Phillips. Fesler, who had accompanied the Hoovers on their Latin American tour, was ideally suited to answer. She had kept a detailed diary on the trip, thus had much to draw on. Fesler wrote a three-page reply to Phillips: ‘I find it most difficult to begin to give even brief information about the purpose and pleasure of the trip.’
Nevertheless, she persisted: ‘I can state the purpose of the trip no better than to quote Mr. Hoover—Our trip to Latin America was conceived for purpose of paying friendly calls upon our neighbors to the South.’ Fesler briefly describes the restful lazy days at sea, calls to colorful ports, visits to historic capital cities, scenic drives and exotic cuisine. What struck her was ‘to see how excited the women were in catching a glimpse of Mrs. Hoover… leading to the unexpected result of awakening an interest in women’s issues in South American newspapers.’ Two other memories struck Fesler—having roasted corn on the cob in Lima, Peru and the beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers that were in abundant display-roses, orchids, gardenias, camellias and local blooms whose names were not known to Fesler.
As someone tasked with arranging programs for the Hoover Library, I salute the chutzpah of Anna Phillips in seeking an answer from the Hoovers. As someone who handles reference inquiries at the Hoover Library, I am impressed by the detailed answer provided by Ruth Fesler. Times—and expectations—were different in 1929. The social distance between West Union, Iowa and Washington DC seemed shorter then.