44. Gift of the Heart

Lou Henry Hoover gives out Christmas baskets to needy in Washington, DC. 1932

Lou Hoover created warm and loving homes for her family, wherever they were in the world. Her sons had been born into wealth and privilege, but she urged them to seek fulfilling lives. "The ambition to do, to accomplish, irrespective of its measure in money or fame" is what she encouraged.  

As the Depression deepened, it was heartbreaking for Lou to witness her husband transformed from a "hero" to "scapegoat." It was impossible for him not to be affected, and she observed, "the old sparkling spontaneity is now only occasionally glimpsed far below the surface…."

With her husband, Lou spent a lifetime helping others. At the outbreak of WWI, she helped U.S. tourists stranded in Europe by organizing food, clothing, child care, and lodging. Back in America, she promoted "hooverizing" and helped to develop the Girl Scouts of America. As First Lady, Lou Henry Hoover led the appeal for unemployment relief, just as earlier she had campaigned on behalf of war-torn Belgium.

Only after Lou's death in 1944 did Herbert Hoover learn the full extravagance of his wife’s charities. Her desk drawers were filled with uncashed checks from grateful Americans – most of them strangers – who tried to repay the loans she had personally made during the Depression.