By Thomas F. Schwartz
Born in Iowa, both Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover considered themselves Californians for most of their lives. Not only was their home designed by Lou built in Palo Alto near the campus of Stanford University, Herbert Hoover also operated several farms throughout the state. Initially, Hoover was in partnership with several of his mining engineering friends who purchased land in the Joaquin Valley in the 1920s. Preferring mining to farming, the partners sold out with Hoover owning the farm and several others including the Poso farm located fifteen miles north of Bakersfield, California. In an oral history, Allan Hoover, Herbert Hoover’s youngest son, recalls that they grew a variety of grapes, including “table grapes, raisin grapes, wine grapes.” Allan took over management of some of the farms in the late 1930s and all were liquidated after World War II with Herbert Hoover fearing a similar collapse in farmland prices that followed in the aftermath of World War I.
One of Lou’s lesser-known interests was her support of the Children’s Hospital, now known as Children’s National, in the 1920s. Because her interests were as varied as her husband, most biographers focus on her involvement with Girl Scouts and the Women’s Division of the National Amateur Athletic Federation during this decade. Annual press coverage, however, always noted Mrs. Hoover’s visits to the Children’s Hospital dispensing Christmas cheer and raisins grown on the Poso farm. This is the December 26, 1926 reporting from the Washington Star:
“They had raisins out at Children’s Hospital today when ‘the lady from
California’ brought great boxes of the luscious dried fruit grown on her own California ranch to the little patients in all the wards, save those where contagion reigned.
Mrs. Herbert Hoover, wife of the Secretary of Commerce, is the official name of the ‘lady,’ but the youngsters who clamored for cozy perches on her lap didn’t care a great deal about that. It was raisins they wanted and great soft purple bunches of raisins they got.
Mrs. Hoover remained at the hospital for the better part of two hours.
To them she is the ‘Lady From California,” and when she smilingly suggested they copy her smile for the photographs they complied with all the grace the gift of raisins would inspire—and that was grace.
Since her arrival in Washington Mrs. Hoover has been intensely interested in the welfare of the Children’s Hospital, and her annual visit as Mrs. Santa Claus is an eagerly anticipated event at the hospital. There are at this time 103 little patients there and Mrs. Hoover saw and patted and coddled pretty nearly every one of them.
The annual ball to be held at the Willard Hotel January 3 for the benefit of the Children’s Hospital will be attended by Mrs. Hoover as well as other members of official and social Washington.