Lou Henry Hoover’s White House History

The White House, ca. 1920.
The White House, ca. 1920.

by Spencer Howard

In 1930, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover asked one of her secretaries, Dare Stark McMullin, to compile some information about the historic furnishings in the White House.  What began as a simple list grew into a massive project to document the history of the White House itself and the art and furnishings of each Administration.  

Over the next few weeks on our Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/hooverlibrarymuseum/, we will feature a series of photographs from Mrs. Hoover’s White House history project, depicting the interior of the White House as it appeared during the Hoover Administration.

 When the Hoovers left the White House in 1933, Mrs. Hoover began talks with Scribners about publishing a book based on the compiled information, but publication was put on hold when the Ladies’ Home Journal printed without authorization some of the photos Mrs. Hoover had commissioned for the project.  In the end, the book was never published.  Here is an excerpt from the “Foreword” Mrs. Hoover wrote for the proposed book, revealing in her charming and modest prose how the project unfolded:

“This is a book that has grown.  Scribbles in a notebook, an expanding card catalog, three cross-card catalogues, a narrative for easier reading, the idea of extending the edition to three typewriter or carbon copies for further usefulness, — and then a printed book at the demand of many would-be owners, who had seen the assembling process which was leading to the first typewritten volume.

“Such is the history of Mrs. McMullin’s book.  Each step was one that I could but encourage, each seemed so logical.  And I had been responsible for the beginning!

“For the beginning was just a friendly act on her part, one of those acts for which she is noted among those who know her.

“On a welcome visit to the White House, she had found me distressed because nowhere could I discover anything to identify much of the furniture which was there, — furniture which should have been historic.  It was furniture which had a story, one knew as one looked at it, and yet little could be learned about it.  Reminiscences from old employees, gleanings from the few known books referring to it, gave a meager reward indeed.

“And so a helping hand and eye given her hostess on this visit, an increasing interest in the subject herself, her perseverance aiding her natural flair for research, — and Mrs. McMullin found her materials ready for selection…

“This [book] will contain but the most interesting stories behind those indexed cards which Mrs. McMullin has so cleverly produced in her search for identifications…  With a belief that much within its pages will prove of interest to the seekers after truth in the lives of old furniture or the lives of past generations, I have encouraged Mrs. McMullin in acceding to this request for its publication.  May it also be helpful in the future to those who ask questions in the White House, whether they be of the general public, wandering for an hour through the Lower Floor and the East Room, — or official guests, for two hours attending a State function and passing in orderly sequence from room to room on the Main Floor, — or overnight visitors with a few curious minutes to spare on the family’s Second Floor.

“If Mrs. McMullin and the comparatively few survivals of the many eras of furnishings which have passed through the White House combine to give us a better perspective of those eras in our country as a whole, we shall be grateful.”

/s/ Lou Henry Hoover

/s/ December, 1932

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