Yarns, Needles, Knitting, and Baby Blankets

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Dr. Helen B. Pryor, a close friend and early biographer of Lou Henry Hoover, recalled: “Even though fond of the out-of-doors, Mrs. Hoover has many domestic traits, including a fondness for knitting, begun during World War I, when knitting was an art practiced constantly by her for the boys overseas. Now some of her knitting skill is devoted to the interests of her grandchildren.” 

Pryor’s reference to the war specifically addressed socks to keep soldiers’ feet warm, dry, and clean. Clean dry socks were the main prevention against “trench foot” which was a problem during World War I. Soldiers often stood in standing water for prolonged periods, sometimes in cold temperatures. This caused feet to become irritated, swollen because of reduced blood circulation, and a breakdown of muscles and tissues. Open sores developed that were easily infected leading to amputation of toes and feet. Knitting socks was a simple remedy.

Lou’s interest in knitting was further advanced to provide employment to women in areas of London who lost their jobs with the closure of factories. Her involvement with the American Women’s Relief Fund’s Economic Committee resulted in the creation of three knitting factories that supported the war effort. The wages allowed for previous unemployed women to earn a living and provide needed items for soldiers.

After the war, Lou continued to knit as a pastime amply documented in family photographs and home movies. As Pryor noted, with the arrival of grandchildren, Lou began making baby blankets. On November 25, 1939, Therina Pearson, a family friend of the Hoovers, wrote to Bunny Miller, an administrative assistant:

“You’re probably used to odd requests, though not along this line, I imagine. A couple of years ago when I was up at Mrs. Hoover’s, she was knitting a baby blanket on large needles. It was double, but united at the edges, and she was knitting both sides at the same time, one in one color, and one in another. It was the nicest thing of its kind I have seen, and I am very anxious to make one such for Christmas if I can get the ‘recipe.’ I don’t know Mrs. Hoover’s Secretary, and I hate to bother Mrs. Hoover about it, but sometime if you could ask her if she has the directions around somewhere, I would appreciate greatly if one of you could send them to me. Naturally, I don’t want anyone to be put to any trouble about it.”

Lou responded five days later with a five-page, single-spaced, typed response including the instructions, concluding:

“The blankets are really great fun to make, and after you have got into the swing of it, you will vary it a great deal. That is, you will make many different blankets, slightly varied from one another. And all through this letter I have been wondering if perhaps you are knitting this for yourself, so I won’t have to turn to and knit one for you?!”:”

In her letter of thanks, Therina confesses:

“I seem to have gone in for knitting baby things in a big way, for as you rightly suspected, we are expecting an arrival sometime in April!” 

On April 20, 1940, David Bruce Pearson was born.  Upon receiving the news, Lou knitted a baby sweater and sent it as a gift.

You can see Lou’s original instructions here or visit Knitty.com for a modern rendering of the instructions.

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