32. The Nation’s Social Center

The beginnings of the Great Depression could not halt the social demands placed upon a President and his First Lady. Guests at the Hoover White House included the King and Queen of Siam, Charles Lindbergh, British Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald, and Helen Keller.

Resenting ceremonial demands on his time, Hoover complained that while the country was burning, congressmen wanted him to cut ribbons. On January 1, 1930, he shook 9,000 hands at the traditional New Year's Day reception. On many evenings, a formally dressed president dined with guests and afterwards sat with his eyes closed in the East Room, listening to musicians such as Rosa Ponselle and Jascha Heifetz.

Much of the social burden fell to Lou Hoover, who instructed White House staff to make awed visitors feel at home. "Well, don't ever worry," the First Lady explained to a young assistant concerned about protocol. "You just always do what will make the other fellow feel comfortable, at ease, and then you will be all right."

When her husband announced one day that instead of four dinner guests he was bringing home forty, Lou directed the kitchen staff to grind up everything in the freezers for croquettes. The resulting recipe for "White House Surprise Supreme" was reportedly delicious, but could never be recreated.

01/01/1930 New Year's Day reception at the White House.