Admirably equipped to preside at the White House, Lou Henry Hoover had experience as wife of a man eminent in public affairs at home and abroad. She had shared his interests since they met in a geology lab at Leland Stanford University. Hoover was fascinated, he declared later, "by her whimsical mind, her blue eyes and a broad grinnish smile."
Born in Iowa in 1874, Lou Henry grew up there for ten years until her father decided that the climate of southern California would favor the health of his wife. He took his young daughter on camping trips in the hills. Lou became a fine horsewoman; she hunted and preserved specimens with the skill of a taxidermist. She also developed an enthusiasm for rocks, minerals, and mining. In 1894, she entered Stanford and completed her course before marrying Herbert Hoover in 1899.
The newlyweds left at once for China, where he worked as a mining engineer. His career took them about the globe - Ceylon, Burma, Siberia, Australia, Egypt, Japan, Europe. Her talent for homemaking eased their time in a dozen foreign lands. Two sons, Herbert and Allan, were born during this adventurous life. Lou spent time with the boys in California during World War I, and in 1919 she saw construction begin for a long-planned home in Palo Alto. But in 1921 her husband's political career took the family to Washington. There, Lou spent eight years busy with social duties and an active participation in the Girl Scout movement, including service as its president.
The Hoovers moved into the White House in 1929, and the first lady welcomed visitors with poise and dignity throughout the administration. When the first day of 1933 dawned, however, Mr. and Mrs. Hoover were away on holiday. Their absence ended a New Year's Day tradition of the public being greeted personally by the president at a reception in the Executive Mansion.
Lou Hoover herself paid the cost of reproducing furniture owned by Monroe for a period sitting room in the White House. She also restored Lincoln's study for her husband's use. The Hoovers entertained elegantly, using their own private funds for social events while the country suffered worsening economic depression.
In 1933 they retired to Palo Alto, but maintained an apartment in New York. Herbert Hoover only learned the full lavishness of his wife's charities after her death there on January 7, 1944. She had helped the education, he stated, "of a multitude of boys and girls." He said she was ideal for the position she had held: "a symbol of everything wholesome in American life."
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