Science fiction depicts certain aliens and robots as possessing no emotion and basing their actions entirely on logic. The popular television series Star Trek introduced Vulcans who evolved replacing emotions with logic. Herbert Hoover was neither a Vulcan nor a robot, but writers have often depicted him as lacking any emotion or empathy toward people, especially those who were recipients of his humanitarian relief. Hoover’s Quaker upbringing that taught modesty and self-control to avoid bringing attention to oneself often led observers to conclude he was cold and aloof, lacking emotion. His background in geology, science, and math also showcased the analytical rather than emotional or theatrical side of his personality. It is not surprising that a common attribute of Hoover is that of a cold, dispassionate, and distant figure removed from any empathetic connection to the people who were the recipients of his humanitarian relief. This image is reinforced by the absence of photographs and film footage showing Hoover walking among children, inspecting the hot lunches served to school children in Belgium in World War I.
Both Herbert and Lou Hoover had an aversion to using children as props for promotional purposes. Hoover tried to keep the focus of the Commission for Relief in Belgium [CRB] on those served rather than himself or any specific individual in the organization. Numerous accounts from those close to Hoover describe his visits to those receiving humanitarian relief often brought tears to his eyes, an emotion not acceptable in grown men at that time. Jeffrey Miller describes a visit that Hoover and Brand Whitlock, United States Ambassador to Belgium, made to a soup kitchen supported by the CRB:
Hoover seemed touched by the quietly spoken ‘merci’ as each person received a bowl of soup, loaf of bread, and a little coffee and chicory. Whitlock wrote that each thank-you ‘somehow stabbed one to the heart, and brought an ache to the throat, and almost an annoying moisture to the eyes. One felt very humble in those human presences…. I knew what was going on in Mr. Hoover’s heart when he turned away and fixed his gaze on something far down the street.’
Jay “Ding” Darling, the political cartoonists for the Des Moines Register and Hoover friend, recounts an incident from a fishing trip on the Rogue River. It was early morning as the two men were gathering their fishing tackle when a knocking was heard on their cabin door. As Darling tells it:
“See who that is, will you Jay?” Mr. Hoover asked. A disheveled and ragged placer miner from a ramshackle cabin on the river had come for help. His daughter was very sick, he mumbled, and he was afraid maybe that she was dead. Was there someone here who could come and look at her?
Here was something that chief was made for! He responded almost with a bound and, taking me with him, hastened to the miner’s shack. It was a shambles of neglect.
The little girl had died of malnutrition and the rest of the children and mother were in a pitiful state. There wasn’t a scrap of food in the house, and the father was nearly incoherent from a steady diet of liquor.
Within an hour Mr. Hoover had learned the family history from the rural school teacher, had telephoned a rush order for supplies, and had a doctor and trained nurse on the way to the place. Characteristically, he then obtained enough contributions to set up a permanent organization in the little school district as a guarantee against a repetition of such an ugly tragedy.
Writers who fail to see the humanity in the Great Humanitarian or find the moniker misplaced, are blind to the overwhelming number of examples validating Hoover’s caring for those throughout the world. While Hoover before and during the presidency disliked photographs showing him among throngs of children and people, there are ample photographs of him in the post-presidency in service to other presidents and organizations that run counter to his earlier practice. In part, public relations of a modern presidency demanded images of Hoover walking through the ruble of post-war Europe surrounded by smiling children reassuring the American public that their efforts at rebuilding Europe were working. As chief spokesperson for the Boys Clubs of America, Hoover is often shown surrounded by young men wearing Boys Club T-shirts to solicit donations for a worthy cause. Perhaps the most telling example of Hoover’s humanity is reflected in a book, On Growing Up, released a few years before his death in 1964. It is the first publication of children’s letters to a former president and his replies. A cursory review of its contents is the best short introduction to Hoover’s humanity that one can find. It is through the eyes of children that one can clearly see Hoover as a friend and humanitarian.