Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lou Henry Hoover: Activist First Lady

I just finished reading Lou Henry Hoover: Activist First Lady by Nancy Beck Young. I’ve actually read most of this on the plane to Denver last month, but finally got around to finishing it this week.

Young portrays Lou Hoover as an activist who is often overlooked because she shunned direct publicity from her actions. She talks about Lou Hoover’s work before being First Lady, what she did as a First Lady and what she did after being First Lady. By showing all the causes that Lou Hoover worked with, you can see that Hoover was a very active First Lady, but one who did not believe her actions should be published whereas Eleanor Roosevelt (who Hoover is often compared unfavorably with) was willing to publish her actions. Young also contends that the Hoover's public marriage was lost during the presidency years (she isn't saying their personal marriage suffered, just that their work together did). Whereas before the presidency, the Hoovers often worked together on major projects, this did not happen in the White House. Each went moreorless their separate ways in public works.

I found Lou Hoover’s work with the Girl Scouts, which continued throughout her life and one area were she did not shun publicity, fascinating. Her work with Pro-America, after being First Lady, is also very interesting as it was only after the Hoovers left office that she became publicly political.

Another interesting thread is Lou Hoover and race relations. Lou Hoover never transcended her time and class on this issue, but she did do several small things, although she never made any significant statement. One incident concerned Jessie DePriest, whose husband was an African American Illinois Congressman. To avoid a boycott of the annual congressional wives’ tea if she invited Mrs. DePriest, but not wanting to exclude her, Lou Hoover, had multiple teas that year and split the guest list, inviting DePriest to the last one. Through careful planning, she was able to avoid a boycott and welcome Mrs. DePriest to the White House. Lou Hoover also worked to help African-American scouts have opportunities for camps and other activities, but here again she still held to segregationist principles.

Lou Hoover gets lost behind Eleanor Roosevelt and under the weight of the Depression, but she actually was a very forward thinking First Lady and very active – in a much more private way. I enjoyed this book and it found it very well researched and written.

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