43. Life of the Mind

"The independent girl is truly of quite modern origin," wrote Miss Lou Henry at the age of fifteen in 1889. Lou went on to author scholarly articles like The Geology of the Dead Sea, after becoming the first woman at Stanford to earn a geology degree. She and Bert used the long hours aboard ship to translate the 16th century Latin mining text, De Re Metallica.

Like her husband – the last of America's old-fashioned presidents and the first of the new – Lou Hoover was a transitional First Lady. She researched an exhaustive social history of the White House. Although avoiding political commentary, she became the first to address the nation on the radio and the first to invite African Americans to social functions at the White House.

Guests to the White House enjoyed sophisticated musical concerts. Mrs. Hoover hosted East Room musicales featuring Vladimir Horowitz, Jascha Heifetz, pianist Ignace Paderewski, and choirs from the Tuskegee Institute.  

Historical prints of Washington D.C. were collected by Lou, as were Chinese porcelains from the Qing Dynasty, pewter ware, and weapons from around the world. A gifted linguist, artist, and photographer, Lou traded her box Brownie for an 8mm motion picture camera to record family and Girl Scout activities. On top of everything else, Lou Henry Hoover was largely responsible for designing the Hoover home in California plus the presidential fishing camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover relax on the deck of their cabin at Camp Rapidan, Virginia, August 2, 1930.