by Spencer Howard
Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover’s grandchildren were an important but little publicized part of the Hoover White House. Their youngest son, Allan, had just graduated from Stanford University and was still single when his father became President, but, their older son, Herbert Jr., and his wife, Margaret Watson Hoover, already had two children and welcomed a third into the world during the Hoover Presidency. Margaret Ann, the oldest, nicknamed “Peggy Ann,” was almost three when Hoover was inaugurated in March, 1929; Herbert Hoover III, nicknamed “Peter,” was 16 months. Their sister Joan was born in April, 1930.
One of the first pieces of furniture that was moved into the White House on Inauguration Day 1929 was a crib for Peter. Herbert Jr., Margaret, Peggy Ann and Peter stayed at the White House for ten days after the Inauguration, and the two young children provided a lively atmosphere to begin the new administration. They then returned to their home in southern California, where Herbert Jr. worked as an engineer for Western Air Express, a precursor to TWA.
In September, 1930, Herbert Jr. was diagnosed with tuberculosis and entered a sanatorium in North Carolina. When it became clear that an extended stay would be necessary, he and his wife arranged for the children to stay at the White House. On December 8, 1930, the three children and their nurse arrived by early morning train at Washington’s Union Station. The First Lady herself was there to welcome them, hiding behind a gate at the end of the platform to avoid being noticed. Mrs. Hoover had been busy preparing for their arrival, furnishing three bedrooms and a playroom in the attic of the White House. For almost 6 months, the three children lived at the White House.
For a detailed description of the grandchildren’s role in the 1930 White House Christmas party for family and staff, see https://hoover.blogs.archives.gov/2020/12/02/a-1930-white-house-christmas-recollection/.
During the months that the grandchildren lived at the White House, it became a tradition for Peter and Peggy Ann to walk the President to and from the Oval Office every day, each child holding one of his hands. When the children would visit him while he was working, he would give them goodies from a stash he kept in his desk drawer. Stories about the children and their doting grandfather rarely made the news, however, because the President was opposed to “human interest” stories. He felt that his grandchildren, like any of his personal affairs, were not for public view.
By May 1931 Herbert Jr. had recuperated from his illness, and he and his wife reunited with the children at the White House. Before the family returned to their home in California, the First Lady arranged a day at the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus for her grandchildren and the children of several White House staff members. The President stayed behind due to important work that needed to be done, and Peter, much to his dismay, was left at the White House because he had a bad cold. Peggy Ann was particularly interested to see the bears, because one White House staff member had told the children that a bear lived in the cellar of the White House.
Apparently, Peggy Ann’s curiosity was not satisfied at the circus, because when the children and their parents returned to the White House for a week-long visit at Christmas time, the President took Peggy Ann and Peter to the Washington Zoo to see the bears. We do not know if they solved the mystery of the White House bear, but a good time was had by all.
Christmas 1931 had a somber tone as much of the country was suffering under the effects of the Great Depression. Peggy Ann and Peter, with help from the First Lady and her staff, hosted a Christmas party for 128 Washington DC children, ages 3 through 11. Instead of receiving presents and goodies, however, the guests were requested to bring toys, clothing and sweets that would be sent to poor children of coal miners in West Virginia. Mrs. Claus made a surprise appearance and accepted the presents on behalf of Santa Claus, who was working hard but could not, by himself, take care of all the deserving little boys and girls.
Christmas 1931 proved to be the last visit of the grandchildren to the Hoover White House. When the Hoover Administration ended in 1933, the kids’ furniture was put into storage and eventually sold off or given away years later.