Lou Henry Hoover (March 29, 1874 – January 7, 1944) was the wife of President of the United States Herbert Hoover and served as First Lady from 1929 to 1933.
Marrying her engineer husband in 1899, she traveled widely with him, including to Shanghai, China, and became a cultivated scholar and linguist. A proficient Chinese speaker, she is the only First Lady to have spoken an Asian language. She oversaw construction of the presidential retreat at Rapidan Camp in Madison County, Virginia. She was the first First Lady to make regular, nationwide radio broadcasts to the American public.
Lou Henry was born in Waterloo, Iowa, to banker Charles Delano Henry and Florence Ida Weed. Lou grew up something of a tomboy in Waterloo, as well as Whittier, California, and Monterey, California. Charles Henry took his daughter on camping trips in the hills—her greatest pleasures in her early teens. Lou became a fine horsewoman; she hunted, and preserved specimens with the skill of a taxidermist; she developed an enthusiasm for rocks, minerals, and mining.
When Herbert Hoover graduated from Stanford in June 1895, they had decided to delay wedding plans while she continued her education and he pursued his engineering career in Australia. In 1898, the year she graduated from Stanford, Hoover cabled a marriage proposal, which she promptly accepted by return wire.
The day after their marriage, the Hoovers sailed from San Francisco for Shanghai, China, where they spent four days in the Astor House Hotel. The newlyweds soon settled into their first home, a large house in Tianjin. Hoover's job required extensive travel throughout remote and dangerous areas, which they did together. Mrs. Hoover was present with her husband during the Boxer Rebellion.
Mrs. Hoover learned and became proficient in Chinese. In the White House, at times, the Hoovers would converse in Chinese to foil eavesdroppers. To date, she is the only First Lady to speak an Asian language.
Mrs. Hoover was also well versed in Latin; she collaborated with her husband in translating Agricola'sDe Re Metallica, a 16th-century encyclopedia of mining and metallurgy. The Hoover translation was published in 1912, and remains in print today as the standard English translation. During World War I, she assisted her husband in providing relief for Belgianrefugees. For her work she was decorated in 1919 by King Albert I of Belgium.
As First Lady (1929-1933)
Official First Lady White House Portrait
Mrs. Hoover distinguished herself by becoming the first First Lady to broadcast on a regular basis. Although she did not have her own radio program, she participated as a guest speaker on a number of occasions between 1929 and 1933, often advocating for volunteerism, or discussing the work of the Girl Scouts. Radio critics praised her for having an excellent radio voice and for speaking with confidence.
As First Lady, she discontinued the New Year's Day reception, the annual open house observance begun by Abigail Adams in 1801.
Lou died of a heart attack in New York City on January 7, 1944. She predeceased her husband by 20 years, and was originally buried in Palo Alto, California. Following her husband's death in 1964, she was reinterred next to the president at West Branch, Iowa.
Camp Lou Henry Hoover in Middleville, New Jersey, is named for her and run by the Heart of New Jersey Council of the Girl Scouts. Lou Henry Hoover Elementary School in Whittier was built in 1938 and was named in her honor. In 2005 Lou Henry Elementary School was opened in her honor in Waterloo, Iowa. One of the brick dorms known now as "The Classics" at San Jose State University is named "Hoover Hall" in her honor. She funded the construction of the first Girl Scout house in Palo Alto, California. The oldest Girl Scout house in continuous use, it was called Lou Henry Hoover Girl Scout House.
Lou Henry was an avidly athletic young woman, and by her senior year at the university she was a member of the Basket Ball Committee, Vice President of the Women's Athletic Association and an active member of the Archery Club.
^Gummere, pp. 6, 520-521, 571; Hart, pp. 129-133; Hill, pp. 829-832; Hynes, pp. 2-10: The Quaker heritage of Lou Henry is extensive: beginning with William Woolman (1632-1692); passing to his son, John Woolman (1655-1718), and his wife, Elizabeth Borton (1664-1718); passing to their daughter, Elizabeth Woolman (1685-1755), aunt of Quaker preacher John Woolman, and her husband, Robert Hunt (died 1716); passing to their son, Robert Hunt (1709-1764), and his wife, Abigail Wood (1715-1747); passing to their son, Robert Hunt (1745-1805), and his wife, Abigail Pancoast (1743-1827); and finally passing to their daughter, Abigail Hunt (1781-1843), and her husband, William Henry (1777-1862), a member of the Methodist Episcopal church.
Allen, Anne Beiser and Jon L. Wakelyn (2000). An independent woman: the life of Lou Henry Hoover. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press
Gummere, Amelia Mott (1922). The journal and essays of John Woolman. New York: The Macmillan Company
Hart, Craig (2004). A genealogy of the wives of the American presidents and their first two generations of descent. North Carolina, Jefferson: McFarland & Co., Inc., pp. 129-133
Hill, H. H. (1881). History of Lee County [Illinois]. 873 pages. pp. 829-832. Genealogy and history of the Robert and Abigail Pancoast Hunt family, including a transcription of their Quaker wedding document.
Hunt, Charles Cummins (1906). A genealogical history of the Robert and Abigail Pancoast Hunt family. Columbus, Ohio: Champlin Press, pp. 127-128
Hynes, Judy (1997). The Descendants of John and Elizabeth (Borton) Woolman. Mount Holly, New Jersey: John Woolman Memorial Association
Preston, Diana (2000). The Boxer Rebellion: the dramatic story of China's war on foreigners that shook the world in the Summer of 1900. New York: Walker