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First Lady, Lou Henry Hoover

1874 – 1944

Lou Henry Hoover, Juliette Gordon Low, Grace Coolidge

Born in Waterloo, Iowa, the future Lou Henry Hoover learned to love the outdoors from her father. Speaking of her parents she wrote, “They would not want me to stay meekly at home.”The day after her marriage in 1899, the bride left for China, the first of an unending series of global journeys that would carry her to the furthest corners of civilization. Throughout her life, Lou was very much her husband’s partner in everything he did, whether pursuing the history of mining, caring for Americans stranded in Europe by World War I, feeding desperate Belgium or convincing her countrymen to voluntarily reduce their food consumption during the war.

When the great Depression cast a shadow over her husband’s presidency, Lou hired secretaries to channel assistance to the victims of hard times, after first concealing her own involvement. She also accompanied the President on his unsuccessful 1932 reelection campaign. At the end she still managed a smile for reporters. “See, we are carrying on”, she said. And so she was.

At a time when most women were expected to confine their activities to the home, Lou Henry Hoover took the world for her stage. In her youth she aspired to become a geologist, because this outdoor occupation would enable her to pursue the study of rock formations she had grown to love on hikes with her father. After graduating from college with a teaching certificate, she entered Stanford University in 1894 and completed her course of study in geology (becoming the first woman in Stanford’s geology department).

In 1917, Lou was personally recruited by Juliette Gordon Low and for the rest of her life; Mrs. Hoover served continuously as a Girl Scout National board member or officer. Through her involvement in the organization, she adopted more than a million girls in green and brown uniforms, eager to introduce them to the outdoor world she had encountered as a 10-year-old tomboy on the Cedar River.

In 1929, she raised over half a million dollars to help realize a five-year plan of organizational development. She is also credited with facilitating the first national sale of Girl Scout cookies during her second term as president.

Lou Henry Hoover was a highly effective spokesperson and role model for young women. Said one observer: “Mrs. Hoover is just the type of person one would expect young girls to adore. She has a charm of manner that immediately attracts one.” She certainly attracted many young women to Girl Scouting. In 1927, there were some 168,000 Girl Scouts in America. By the time of her death in 1944, their ranks had swelled to 1,035,000.

Information for this biography came from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. For more about Lou Henry Hoover