Lou Henry Hoover: First Lady, Girl Scout Leader, AAUW Member

March 12, 2013

On the Girl Scouts’ 101st anniversary, we’re remembering one of the early leaders of that great organization. She was a first lady of the United States, an AAUW member, and a Girl Scout long before there was a name for it!

Lou Henry Hoover and Girl Scouts, photo courtesy of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

Lou Henry Hoover and Girl Scouts, photo courtesy of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

Lou Henry Hoover, a member of the AAUW Washington (DC) Branch, was no ordinary first lady. What an amazing life she led! Born in 1874, she grew up in Iowa and California. Lou Henry Hoover was very close to her father; he took her on camping and fishing excursions. At an early age, she became an excellent horsewoman. As first lady, she would often escape the demands of the position with a secret horseback ride through Rock Creek Park.

Her love of the outdoors translated into her academic pursuits as well as her philanthropic activities. Lou Henry Hoover attended Stanford University and was the first woman to major in geology at the school. It was there that she met fellow geology student Herbert Hoover. They married in 1899, after Lou Henry Hoover graduated, and immediately left for China to follow his work with a mining company. She became fluent in Chinese, and later, in the White House, the Hoovers would sometimes speak in Chinese to trick eavesdroppers. The Hoovers were a modern couple by any standards. They collaborated in the translation of an academic text from Latin to English, the 16th century encyclopedia of mining De re Metallica. Jointly, they won an award for this work, and the translated version is still in use today. Herbert Hoover also relied on his wife to oversee the construction of his presidential retreat, Rapidan Camp in Virginia. As first lady, Lou Henry Hoover was blasted by some critics for inviting the wife of an African American congressman, Oscar DePriest (R-IL), to the White House for tea. The first lady courageously stood her ground, did not rescind the invitation, and her husband supported her.

Lou Henry Hoover also had a substantial role in the founding of Girl Scouts, which was launched by Juliette Gordon Low 101 years ago today, on March 12, 1912. Lou Henry Hoover organized and led Troop VII in Washington, D.C., and loved the Girl Scouts for the same reasons I love it for my daughters — friendships, service, opportunities, and the outdoors. Lou Henry Hoover served as the national president of the Girl Scouts for two terms, from 1922 to 1925 and from 1935 to 1937. Remember this the next time you tear open a box of Thin Mints: It was Lou Henry Hoover who started the sale of Girl Scout Cookies in 1935. Under her leadership, the Girl Scouts grew to more than 1 million members. Imagine the lasting impact on the lives of so many girls!

By:   |   March 12, 2013

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