Lou Hoover Adding Bricks to the Foundation of League of Women Voters

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Henry Hoover sitting at the "Monroe Desk" ithat was reproduced for the White House collection. ca 1931
First Lady Lou Henry Hoover sitting at the “Monroe Desk” that was reproduced for the White House collection. ca 1931

While Lou Henry Hoover did not campaign for suffrage, she did actively support the League of Women Voters once women gained suffrage.  She spoke at Bryn Mawr College, one of the ‘Seven Sisters’ women’s colleges, in April 1920, shortly before suffrage passed. Lou was invited by the League of Women Voter’s  president, Marion E. Park, to address the students.  The occasion was the creation of Anna Howard Shaw chair for Political Research at Bryn Mawr.  Lou said: ‘That we have the vote means nothing.  That we use it in the right way means everything.  Our work should be carried out exactly as our college work is—thoughtful, idealistic, clean and effective.’

In May 1923, Lou Henry Hoover addressed the Republican Women of Philadelphia.  The local papers quoted Lou as saying: ‘Women have come to stay in politics.  There is no way of keeping out and there is no such thing as a neutral or passive voice.  If you are not active, you are helping the other side.’

In October 1923, Lou spoke to the National League of Women Voters.  She later edited her remarks for publication:

‘It is very possible to have both a home and career as we are released from so many of the burdens of our mothers and grandmothers.’

‘I am very interested in the principles and progress of the League of Women Voters, and I am always interested in the work women are doing in California.  California women are pioneers, here developing the Civic Center and forum as means to train citizens… on child labor, the primacy of education, moral underpinning of civil society, party protocols and fundamentals.  We must always defend League against criticism that is only a woman’s party.’

In addition to speaking to the League of Women Voters, Lou offered substantial financial support.  When asked in April 1921, ‘Will you pledge $1000?’ she immediately said yes, but was careful to give the donation on behalf of the California League of Women Voters, not wanting to draw attention to herself.  Lou renewed this $1000 pledge in 1922 and 1923, doing her part to cover the $80,000 annual cost of the league.  Lou remained a card-carrying member of both the California and National League of Women Voters from 1923 until her death.

Behind the scenes, Lou offered moral support and a sympathetic correspondent to League activists.  She wrote to the League of Women Voters President Maud Park, October 1923: ‘You have a very fine group of women in the League.  They have had a long struggle to keep the Woman’s Party from taking over and veering into partisanship.  Having weathered the storm, we can focus on forums and issues.’

In April 1926, Lou Hoover wrote to Emma McLaughlin: ‘What you have at the League of Women Voters is so very tremendous that I always hope that it will be carried out in ever-widening circles in a deliberate and well-organized effort.’

After her husband became a candidate in 1928, and then President, Lou reduced her public speaking on League issues and forums.  During the Campaign of 1932, Lou’s primary role was to be seen with Herbert Hoover as he campaigned.  Privately Lou remained politically engaged.

Lou broke her public silence in October 1932 when she addressed the Women’s National Committee of Welfare and Relief Mobilization, carefully staying within the bounds of women’s expected place.  Lou focused on the need to coordinate relief efforts and women’s role in maintaining morale. She reprised these themes in an address to the Girl Scout convention, October 7, 1932.  Lou emphasized that Girl Scouts’ service activities were vital in fighting the Great Depression.  A condensed version of this speech was re-broadcast on radio.

After Herbert Hoover lost the 1932 election, Lou was less constrained in public speaking.  On November 27, 1932, she gave a national radio address titled, Women’s Place in the Present Emergency.  The gist of Lou’s talk was to convince women to forget misplaced pride—women should seek aid from neighbors.  When asked, these neighbors will give generously.

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