Who is Lou Henry Hoover?

By: Georgia Gilbert, East Syracuse/Minoa Area Service Unit Manager

Lou Henry working with Girl Scouts in the field.
Lou Henry working with Girl Scouts in the field.

Did you ever wonder how our camps got their names? Camp Hoover is an easy one. There are a few “Camp Hoovers” in Girl Scout councils across the country. All paying homage to an extraordinary woman and her dedication to Girl Scouting, Lou Henry Hoover.

In March of 1874 Lou Henry was born in Waterloo, Iowa. Her father, Charles Henry, was a bank manager by day, but his real avocation was outdoorsman. He liked fishing, hunting, camping and riding. He knew quite a lot about the earth and all the natural wonders of flowers, trees, and rocks. These were the adventures that awaited Lou Henry. As Lou grew up, Mr. Henry took her on fishing and camping trips. He taught her all about the outdoors. Lou and her father spent time identifying rocks and plants. Mr. Henry instilled in Lou a love of nature and the wildlife around her.

When she grew older, Lou prepared to be a teacher like her mother had been before she married Lou’s father. But one day Lou attended a lecture by Professor J.C. Branner, a famous geologist, from Stanford University. After the speech, Lou approached the professor and told him of her love of the outdoors and she also inquired about the study of geology for a woman. With his encouragement, and that of her parents, Lou Henry enrolled in the Department of Geology at Stanford University. She was the first woman in that major at Stanford.

While at Stanford, Lou met a senior assistant of Dr. Branner named Herbert Hoover. Herbert Hoover was also majoring in geology. They found they had many things in common and spent a lot of time together. She was a freshman, he a senior, and he was fascinated, as he declared later, “by her whimsical mind, her blue eyes and a broad grinnish smile.”

Lou completed her degree in 1898. During the time that Lou was studying at Stanford, Herbert Hoover was mining in Australia.

After graduating from Stanford, Lou returned to her family home. It was here that she received a cabled proposal of married from “Bert” Hoover. Herbert Hoover was to come to California from Australia via London to marry Lou, and right after the wedding they were to board a ship that was sailing to China.

Lou and Herbert lived in China until 1900. They spent their time traveling the world and had two sons. They eventually moved back to the United States where they would settle.

About the time World War I broke out, Lou took an active interest in the Girl Scout movement. She was asked to be a troop leader for a Washington, D.C. Girl Scout troop. Lou’s love of young people and her interest in the scouting movement led her to take over Troop VIII. One project that Lou had the Girl Scouts do was to cultivate a war garden. The girls were actively directed by Lou to plant plots of vegetables.

Lou devoted many hours and much energy to the Girl Scouts. She was a strong advocate for girls being able to experience a love of the outdoors. She accompanied the girls on hikes, visited camps, and took part in many Girl Scout ceremonies. She was not only a troop leader, but also she became a member of the Girl Scout Council in Washington. The Girl Scout leadership roles interested Mrs. Hoover because they offered her an opportunity to lead young American girls into the great outdoors. She served every branch of Girl Scouting from troop leader, to president of the national organization, to national board member. She was a successful fundraiser, and during her tenure she dramatically increased participating in Girl Scouting. Lou Hoover particularly liked the service aspects of Girl Scouting as well as the cooperative ventures and the outdoor activities that were available to girls through Girl Scouting. She believed the Girl Scouting made the girls better homemakers, citizens, and friends, and that it encouraged keener minds and stronger characters.

“To me the outing part of scouting has always been the most important. The happiest part of my own very happy childhood and girlhood was without a doubt the hours and days, the sometimes entire months, which I spent in pseudo-pioneering or scouting in our wonderful western mountains with my father in our vacation times. So I cannot but want every girl to have the same widening, simplifying, joy-getting influences in her own life.”

In 1928, Henry Hoover was elected President of the United States. Lou had a knack for mixing all sorts of people and making each feel important. She eliminated barriers between special and ordinary guests. A Girl Scout would receive as much attention from Mrs. Hoover as would an ambassador when visiting the White House. After leaving the White House, Lou continued her work with the Girl Scouts.

Lou Henry Hoover gave to the world a caring, selfless woman. She gave to thousands of Girl Scouts, guidance and sustained work for many years. She gave to the United States exemplary public service.

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