Women’s History Sources at the Hoover Library: Marie Meloney-American Queenmaker

Marie MeloneyRecently, the Wall Street Journal printed a review of American Queenmaker, Julie Des Jardins’s biography of Marie Mattingly Meloney.  I read this review avidly, for Meloney was one of the many strong-minded women whose careers intersected with Herbert Hoover’s public service.  At a time when few women sat in the editor’s chair, Meloney was editor in chief of three major American periodicals: the Delineator, the New York Herald-Tribune Sunday Magazine, and This Week.

Meloney was a journalist, but she was also a “publicist, social reformer, mother, rainmaker, diplomat, political operative, and patron of women, the arts, and sciences—all rolled into one small, inconspicuous package.” The list of causes that Meloney championed was long. During World War I, she raised money for humanitarian relief in Europe, earning the respect of Herbert Hoover. After the war, she worked with Hoover’s campaigns for Better Homes for America and the American Child Health Association. Meloney’s best-known public-relations coup was transforming the Nobel Prize-winner Marie Curie into a celebrity during a carefully staged tour of the U.S. in 1921.

Des Jardins’ biography, thoroughly grounded in research in Marie Meloney papers at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library of Columbia University, prompted me to review the Meloney materials within the Herbert Hoover papers.  There were five folders of Marie Meloney correspondence scattered through the Hoover papers: Commerce Papers, American Child Health Association, President’s Personal Files and Post-Presidential Individual Files. These revealed the fire and iron that Meloney brought to bear on issues.

It is clear from their earliest correspondence that Meloney and Hoover respected each other.  She addressed him as ‘Chief’ a courtesy permitted only to Hoover’s inner circle.  In September 1924, Meloney asked Hoover to write an article on the importance of teaching home economics to men in high school and college.  Hoover complied, but the article was neither long enough nor strong enough for Meloney. She suggested that he revise and resubmit. It is a confident woman that can edit Hoover.  For his part, Hoover rewrote the article. It appeared as ‘What Men Should Know about Home Economics’ in the April 1925 Delineator.

The Meloney-Hoover relationship was personal as well as professional.  She wrote to him in March 1926, on Fifth Avenue Hospital stationery, saying that she was deeply touched by his visit to her during his short stay in New York City.  Meloney wrote Hoover in July 1926, announcing her decision to resign her position as editor of the Delineator because they would not publicize Better Homes in America week.  Hoover’s comforting reply that Meloney would soon find a better post may have buoyed her.

This friendship led Meloney to ask that Hoover write a letter of introduction for her son William as he began a journalism career in Europe.  Hoover happily complied.  He later wrote letters of introduction for Marie Meloney when she toured Europe in 1931.  In return, Meloney took to the stump during the campaign of 1932, defending the policies of ‘her friend of sixteen years, Herbert Hoover.’  Hoover wrote her on January 5, 1933: ‘I cannot end my term as President of the United States without expressing to you my appreciation and my gratitude for your collaboration and loyal support.’ This friendship endured until Marie Meloney died in June 1943.

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