Lou Henry Hoover Responds to Questionnaire on Engineering for Women

By Thomas F. Schwartz

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

Individuals in the news often are asked about their views on a wide range of topics.  Lou Henry Hoover was no exception.  As someone who was already well-known for her translation of De Re Metallica, fund raising efforts for food relief, leadership in the Girl Scouts, and involvement with many other charitable causes, she frequently received letters from inquiring individuals.  Once such query came from Zelma Boeshar on May 12, 1921:

“As you are interested in the Engineering profession for women and have been successful as an engineer yourself, I shall be glad to have your opinions on the questions on the enclosed sheet.

I am a student in Architectural Engineering at Ohio State University and am preparing a report on “Fact about Women Engineers.” I have selected this subject because I believe it will be interesting to women who are or have been in the Engineering profession.  I wish to give facts and for that reason, I am endeavoring to reach as many women engineers as I can and get direct statements from them.

I shall greatly appreciate an answer from you in the near future.”

Lou was a prompt and gracious correspondent, always responding to requests.  Her answers to the questions were short and direct:

  1. “1. What kinds of Engineering do you consider appropriate for a woman?
    (A). Any that she feels capable of and interested in attempting.
  2. Why?
    (A). Why not?
  1. Does a man’s idea of a woman’s sphere have a direct bearing on her career as an engineer?
    (A). As much as it does in law, medicine, or other professions.
  1. Do you consider a woman’s physical weakness a great disadvantage?
    (A). A woman who has taken correct care of herself all of her life should have no so-called “physical weakness.”
  2. Is the engineering profession a test of her womanliness?
    (A). Question incomprehensible to me.
  3. Does it tend to make her masculine?
    (A). Just what do you man by that? How? Why?
  4. Does it tend to make her unconventional?
    (A). If by “unconventional” you mean unusual, it would, wouldn’t it?
  5. Do you think intuition helps a woman in engineering?
    (A). Certainly, and imagination and many other useful characteristics of either woman or man.
  6. Have you any suggestions not noted here?
    (A). No.”

Lou’s responses reflected her view that individual achievement and success was not limited by gender, race, or class, only by the level of individual determination and ability.  Her interest in the Girl Scouts was to help young women develop and pursue leadership skills that they could use throughout life.  Investing in developing individual potential to its fullest fruition was the driving motivation for both Lou and Herbert Hoover in all their public and humanitarian efforts.

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