02. Iowa Boyhood

Herbert Hoover, 1 year old.
Herbert Hoover, ca. 1877.

Iowa Boyhood

Herbert Hoover was born August 10, 1874. His father, Jesse, combined Quaker piety with a very American desire to get ahead in the world. Jesse's wife Hulda was a sweet-faced, devout woman who took Herbert, his brother Theodore and sister May to the unheated Meetinghouse, where Bert sat quietly, sometimes for hours, as his elders waited for the Quaker Inner Light to move them to speak.

The boy's early reading was limited to the Bible, schoolbooks, "certain novels showing the huge danger of Demon Rum" and a pirated copy of the "Youth's Companion." Young Bert enjoyed sledding on frosty winter nights, an activity his Aunt Hannah thought Godless. In the summer, he picked potato bugs to earn money for Fourth of July firecrackers.

The fields around West Branch held prairie chickens and rabbits to hunt; the Wapsinonoc Creek yielded fish to anyone with a willow pole, butcher string line, and the patience instilled by Quaker discipline.

Fishing became a lifelong passion for Hoover. So did the Quaker tenets of emotional self-containment and a commitment to worldly success matched by obligations of service to others. These survived the death of Jesse Hoover in 1880 and Hulda four years later.

Theodore, Mary and Herbert Hoover, ca. 1888.