Santa Claus Lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

By Thomas F. Schwartz


Camp Rapidan school, #31-al73-06

December 1931 was like any other except that more Americans were feeling the effects of what would later be known as the Great Depression.   Herbert and Lou Hoover had a long history of assisting those in need.  The First Lady decided that the annual Christmas party would have a different emphasis.  The invitations sent to guests read: “This is not like the Christmas parties you usually go to, where you get lots of toys and presents to take home, and very good things to eat.  But it is a party where you bring toys and warm, gay sweaters or candy, or things other children would like who otherwise would not have much Christmas.” Throughout the month of December, Lou attended numerous events where she distributed gifts to children in need, often accompanied by her grandchildren, Peggy Ann and Herbert 3rd who went by the name of “Pete.”

One collection of toys went to a group of children near and dear to the Hoover family.  When Herbert and Lou established the first presidential retreat along the Rapidan River in Virginia, they realized that the local children had no school to attend.  Lou designed a school house, she and her husband purchased the building materials, and Lou interviewed several people and selected the teacher for the school.  The Hoovers continued to pay the teacher’s salary until 1938 when the county was able to provide a public school for the children.   Realizing that most of this rugged mountain population area did not have much disposable income to spend on Christmas, the Hoovers decided to send a Christmas tree and toys to the children who lived near Camp Rapidan.

Another group of children who lived in the mountains of West Virginia also received a Christmas surprise.  A boxcar filled with toys made its way to Morgantown, West Virginia where children of unemployed coal miners got a gift from the many Santas who attended the White House party.


First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  #31-1928-f03

Perhaps the most treasured Christmas gift was received by Philip Ratto, Jr. a six year old patient in Eagleville Sanitarium in Philadelphia.  His Christmas wish was to receive a card from First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  Christmas came and went without getting his wish.  Finally on January 8 he received the following card:  “My Dear Philip: Santa Claus told me you specially wanted a Christmas card from me—so I sent you one that I thought you would like best of all.  Alas—there was a mistake in addressing it, and it has come back to me.  I am sending it again—and I am so sorry that you have had this long delay.  I hope you are getting well just as rapidly as possible, and that you had a merry Christmas.  Lou Henry Hoover.”

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Writing Christmas Cards Under Fire

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Jean Henry Lodge

Jean Henry Large 31-1901-24

December 7, 1941 was, as President Franklin Roosevelt aptly stated: “a date which will live in infamy.”  The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese plunged America into World War II.  At the time of the attack, Lou Henry Hoover’s sister, Jean Henry Large and niece, Janet Large, resided on the island of Oahu.  They were writing Christmas cards and wrote the following to her daughter Jean on December 7, 1941, although it did not arrive until February 4, 1942 in a military censored envelope:

                “Janet and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

We are having a very noisy Sabbath right now.  Guns are roaring in the offing, clouds of black smoke rising down below, and airplanes sailing round in a ‘hit and miss’ manner.  Janet says not to be surprised if a sack of flour hits the roof. Apparently we are showing that we can protect ourselves if necessary.  Just a thought, you don’t suppose it is the real thing do you?!

I miss you all very much, although enjoying of course the unusual life I am living.

Jean Henry Large”

The next day, Jean Henry Large wrote a letter to Jean describing what she realized was an actual attack on the naval facility at Pearl Harbor.  The following excerpts describe the grim realization of a nation now at war.

Sunday morning 9 A.M. [December 7, 1941]

“Just reported on radio—‘Rising sun sighted on wing tips of airplanes. Sporadic air attack.  Planes have been shot down.’
First radio official report.  Janet got her office.  Mr. Benson told Janet ‘700 men killed at Wheeler Field—Barracks blown up. (Wheeler Field is down the hill about 4 miles)’ and Honolulu Harbor pretty well shot up.  ‘Major Harrington (retired living 2 doors from us and President of Janet’s company) donned his uniform and with first bomb and has gone to Barracks.”

Monday morning 9.30 A.M.

“…A complete blackout of the Island was made.  First we pulled down venetian blinds, and turned on one lamp, light showed from the window.  Then we fastened up blankets at all the windows—still showed. So we got on the floor with 2 candles flanked by blankets and played ‘Pinochle’ until 10 o’clock…Wish I had your gun or my gun.  Fancy being in the midst of a war with no fire arms!”

The letter goes on to describe updates of information about casualties and attempts to gather provisions and create makeshift outdoor trenches should another attack occur.

“First I was told to get as much water in both tubs, pots, etc. for fear the water supply should be broken.  Then on radio we were told to boil all drinking water as there was a report the water had been ‘doctored.’  That is probably just hysteria.”

In closing, Jean Large reassures her daughter that she and others “are reasonably safe, so don’t worry. I would not like to be situated near any of the strategic places.  Will you drop just a postal card to Aunty Lou [Lou Henry Hoover] if this letter comes through saying we are hale and hearty….”  She concludes, “A very disjointed letter I find.  Probably no more Christmas cards get off!”

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Lou Henry Hoover and the Translation of De Re Metallica


Lou Henry Hoover, 31-1928-f03

A recent Hoover blog described Herbert Hoover’s speech upon accepting the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America’s Gold Medal for his contribution in translating and republishing Agricola’s De Re Metallica.  Herbert Hoover traced the history of the mining profession, beginning with Vulcan, continuing through Thucydides and Jeremiah, before closing with the observation that German mining communities were protean democracies.  Taken all together, the speech was ambitious, erudite, and a reflection of the mettle of the man that wrote it.

If you recall, Herbert Hoover did not act alone in translating Agricola.  Half the work was borne by his wife, Lou Henry Hoover.  She was justly awarded the same Gold Medal from the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America.  Lou Henry Hoover was the first woman to be awarded this medal, and the last woman to be so honored for more than eighty years.  Like her husband, Lou was called upon to give a speech upon receiving the gold medal.

Where Herbert’s speech was broad in scope, Lou’s was more informal.  It is a touching speech, downplaying the superlatives about the quality of their joint efforts.  Lou does acknowledge that the translation of De Re Metallica was a big thing.  Most importantly, she discovered that she could persevere in the ‘unraveling of this great tangle of knotted string.’  She graciously thanks the Society for this medal, explaining that she was touched, grateful and surprised in equal measure.

She closes her remarks by noting this medal will rehabilitate her in the eyes of her family:  ‘I have a small boy who a few years ago began to measure the world in terms of cups and medals.  And when at the age of six he won his gymnasium class’ silver medal for the running high jump –a 2’7”-he came home with pleasant curiosity the medals possessed by other members of the family.  And Father’s and Mother’s  position has not been as assured as it should have been since.  This will help most materially in adjusting the desire balance in the family.’

If you look closely at the photograph of the March 9, 1914 award ceremony at the Biltmore, you’ll see that Lou is at the head table, carefully reading something as the photograph is taken.  It may be a menu or a program for the evening’s festivities, but I like to think it is a copy of the speech that she was about to present.  Always a careful wordsmith, I surmise that Lou’s penciled note at the top of her typed draft was added just before speaking: ‘An impromptu reply to be made if called on at the Gold Medal dinner.’

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Thanksgiving in the White House

Thanksgiving as a national holiday dates back to George Washington’s proclamation in 1789, which named the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.  The tradition wavered in the 19th century until Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 declaring the last Thursday in November be regularly commemorated as Thanksgiving.  It has been an American tradition since then.

Part of this tradition has been the donation of turkeys for the holiday dinner.  Horace Vose [of the Rhode Island Poultry Association] saw an opportunity and seized it, providing the White House Thanksgiving turkey for forty years from 1873 to 1913.  When Vose died, many stepped in to have the honor of having their bird plucked, stuffed, and reduced to bones by the First Family.

31-AL-56 Lawrence Richey with the turkeys he shot for the Hoover Thanksgiving dinner. 1930

31-AL-56 Larry Richey with the turkeys he shot for the Hoover Thanksgiving dinner. 1930

By the Hoover administration, the White House routinely received five or six turkeys for Thanksgiving.  True to form, 1929 saw six turkeys donated.  Two were from Minnesota—the Arrowhead Region Turkey Growers Association and the Duluth 4-H sent birds to Mr. and Mrs. Hoover.  For the first time, these turkeys were flown [in a plane] to D.C., giving lie to the belief that turkeys cannot fly.  Stockton, California donated a 35-pound behemoth.  Hoover’s secretary Larry Richey brought in two wild turkeys bagged in Virginia. Not to be outdone, Maplewood Farms of Wellman, Iowa donated a 25-pounder.

Before sitting down to what must have been a groaning table, the Hoovers went to a Thanksgiving service at the Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church in D.C., joined by their son Allan, home from graduate school at Harvard.  To work up an appetite, the Hoover family spent the day motoring around the District and northern Virginia.  According to newspaper reports, Richey’s wild turkey graced the Hoover table that evening as the Hoovers dined with Allan, and five friends of the family.  The other turkeys fed White House staff.

Astute readers will note that none of the donated Thanksgiving turkeys were pardoned.  While some contend the tradition of pardoning turkeys dates back to the Lincoln administration, when a holiday bird was spared at the behest of young ‘Tad’ Lincoln, this does not become an annual tradition until the Truman administration.

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“I’ve never accepted compensation…for federal service…”

by Thomas Schwartz

In a recent CBS 60 Minutes interview, president-elect Donald Trump told Lesley Stahl, “I’m not going to take the salary.  I’m not taking it.”  The annual salary of the President of the United States is currently $400,000 plus other provisions for expenses such as entertaining and travel.  President-elect Trump will not be the first person as president to forego a salary.  The first was Herbert Hoover and the second was John F. Kennedy.  Both of these individuals began the practice of not accepting a salary in public office well before the presidency.

31-1930-a17, Herbert Hoover in the White House.

Hoover rarely discussed his income or philanthropic giving, believing it a private matter.  Throughout his career as a public servant, as head of the Food Administration under Woodrow Wilson, as Secretary of Commerce, under Harding and Coolidge, as President, and in all of his private humanitarian leadership capacities, Hoover refused compensation for himself.  The most extensive explanations were in two interviews.  The first was with Charles Scott, editor of the Iola Kansas Daily Register in January, 1937.  Hoover stated: “I made up my mind when I entered public life that I would not make it possible for anyone ever to say that I had sought public office for the money there was in it.  I therefore kept the money that came to me as salary in a separate account and distributed it where I thought it would do the most good.  Part of it went to supplement the salaries of men who worked under me and whom the government paid less than I thought they were worth.  Part of it went to charities.”  In 1928, the annual salary of the President of the United States was $75,000.  Years later in an NBC interview on November 6, 1955, Hoover offered a more extensive reasoning for not taking any compensation for his public service: “I’ve never accepted compensation either for relief or for federal service, except in this sense: that I have at times taken federal salaries and expended them on matters that are outside of my own needs and use.  I was led to that by an overall question of conviction of my own, and I don’t say this in disparagement of men accepting salaries from the Government, because most of our official must have them to live.  But it happened that I had prospered in my profession, at a time when the income tax was only one percent.  I was able to save a competence, and I felt that I owed my country a debt that was unpayable and I had no right to ask her to pay me, so that was the practice right up until this year.”

John F. Kennedy gave his entire $100,000 salary to charity.  The records at the Kennedy Library-Museum are still closed regarding which charities but it is clear that his practice of not accepting compensation for public service began well before 1961.  According to Stacy Chandler, reference archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, “Fletcher Knebel reported on this [Kennedy’s giving his salary to charity] in 1962, and ‘White House sources’ eventually did confirm to the press that he had been donating his federal civil service salary since 1947 when he became a Congressional Representative.  I found a few letters from White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger to constituents confirming the President’s donation (and one mentions RFK did the same), so the White House clearly wasn’t trying to hide the fact—but I couldn’t find any instances of the President publicly discussing this in news conferences or speeches.”

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Once upon a time in America


Herbert Hoover and President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on their way to the inauguration ceremonies. 31-1933-30

Once upon a time in America, elections, even the most bitterly contested elections, included high flying rhetoric and deeply held principles to counter balance the general mud-slinging.  One such election was held in the fall of 1932.  Incumbent President Herbert Hoover engaged in a heated campaign against challenger Franklin Roosevelt, Governor of New York.  There was no love lost between these two men, yet they were able to maintain a measure of civility during the campaign.

The challenger Roosevelt did all that he could to tie Hoover to the woes of the Great Depression: lost jobs, falling incomes, foreclosures, and a faltering foreign policy.  Roosevelt’s campaign promised a ‘New Deal’ for Americans tired of their current tribulations.  Admittedly, some of the details of this ‘New Deal’ were murky and sometimes self-contradictory, but the clarion call for change was clear.

Hoover, looking at Roosevelt’s speeches and proposed policies, described FDR as a ‘chameleon on plaid,’ evidently ready to pander to any audience.  For his part, Hoover ran on his record.  He promised to stay the course, confident that his policies would eventually turn the tide against the Great Depression.  The campaign trail suited Roosevelt’s temperament; he began his campaign in August.  Hoover, a reluctant campaigner in the best of times, did not begin his 1932 campaign until October.

Most of Hoover’s campaign speeches were either long summations of policy actions, or point-by-point refutations of misstatements and misrepresentations posited by his challenger.  The exception is Hoover’s address at Madison Square Garden in New York on October 31st.  After deriding Roosevelt’s calls for change and a new deal, Hoover states: ‘This campaign is more than a contest between two men. It is more than a contest between two parties.  It is a contest between two philosophies of government.’

Hoover then goes on to describe his vision for America: a limited Federal government, no direct relief to citizens, relief to come from voluntary cooperative communities, preservation of ordered liberty, freedom for the individual, and equality of opportunity.  This contrasted sharply with Roosevelt’s view of an activist Federal government, with far-reaching powers to provide relief for citizens in need.  For Roosevelt, the state was ‘created by the citizens for their mutual protection and well-being… Our government is not the master but the creature of the people.’

These fundamentally divergent philosophies of government have been manifest in virtually every Presidential election since 1932.  In this sense, we are still resolving this ‘contest between two philosophies of government.’

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First Ladies and Presidential Campaigns


Herbert, Lou and Allan Hoover at their home in Palo Alto, CA. 31-1933-42

Traditionally the First Lady of the United States stays above the fray during campaign season, not wanting to sully the office in the mire of hand-to-hand politicking.  This year Michelle Obama has ventured into the public sphere, acting as a proxy campaigner for Hillary Clinton.  The First Lady has stepped out of her comfort zone because she sees Trump as a clear and present danger to the union.  This has led to Michelle Obama delivering some impassioned speeches on behalf of Clinton.

In 1932 First Lady Lou Henry Hoover had a similarly visceral reaction to the opposing candidate, Franklin Roosevelt.  Given the times, and Lou Hoover’s reluctance to enter the public arena, she voiced her opinions in a forthright letter to her son Allan.  This undated letter (presumably from early July 1932) was written in the wake of Roosevelt’s speech accepting the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

Lou Hoover’s take on Roosevelt’s speech was that he was pandering to the wildest and wooliest elements of the Democratic Party, promising more than he could deliver with his ‘New Deal’ for the ‘Forgotten Man.’  She writes: ‘The Roosevelt family seem to be running pretty true to form. Personally, I lost what faith I still had in the President when he deserted the Progressive party.  He proved him nothing but an opportunist, — and opportunist for himself.  Not even an opportunist for causes.’  For a woman of Lou Hoover’s temperament, these were harsh words.

Lou Hoover goes on to portray Franklin Roosevelt as even more unscrupulous than former President Theodore Roosevelt.  Franklin was willing to capitalize on the Roosevelt name ‘even though the intruding nominee was only a very distant cousin trying to hog in under the family blanket merely because he had the same name.’

Even as she vented her animus toward FDR in a hand-written personal letter to her son, Lou nodded toward decorum by first advising him to: ‘Read this and put a match to it thoroughly right away, in your nearest ash receiver.’  Clearly Allan did not heed this advice. History is left with this window into the mind and mores of Lou Hoover as First Lady.

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Comparing Candidates Careers, 1928



Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover waving his hat while on a western driving trip in Duluth MN, (1928)1928-61. 

There is a long tradition of proxies stumping for their candidate using whatever tools come to hand.  In 1928, Archie Rice, a Stanford classmate of Herbert Hoover, produced a small flyer advocating for Hoover based on summary biographies comparing candidates’ careers.  On the front cover, Rice identifies himself as an analyst of news and football [1928’s version of Nate Silver, without the crunchy data].

On the back cover, Rice comments on the character-forming influences on the two men running for President.  Surrounding Smith, Tammany and its record of 140 years of patronage and public favors [read corruption].  Surrounding Hoover, the Stanford spirit and its ‘appreciation of the blessings of this Government, a reverence for its institutions, and a love of God and humanity.’

Leaving as the credentials of Rice [and his obvious bias in favor of his Stanford chum], the flyer offers nearly eighty points of comparison between Hoover and Smith.  These include some basic biographical data: age, education, occupation at various stages of life, number of men managed, years of government service, managerial experience, and highest office held.  These criteria stand the test of time; they are arguably germane.

Other points of comparison are of more dubious importance: number of books written, number of gold medals won, honorary degrees earned, number of states lived in, religion, height and weight.  While some of these may be relevant to the character of the man, they seem distant from either Smith or Hoover’s qualifications to be President.

Some points of comparison are just mysterious: preferred style of hat, favorite recreation, has milked a cow, and wife’s special accomplishment.  One is left to ponder whether a man wearing a fedora is more qualified to be President than a man wearing a derby, to wonder whether weekends spent fishing carry more weight than weekends spent golfing, to consider just how often the President will be called on to milk a cow, and whether his wife’s singing voice should come into play in a voting booth.

Of course, this was 1928.  Things were quite different then.  Now we are all civilized men and women.  Voters in 2016 would not be swayed by such low-brow politicking.

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Telegram Scam

One of the annoyances of modern life is the variety and volume of shady emails that clog our computers. Phony pharmaceutical ads, Nigerian investment schemes, too-good-to-be-true offers for jobs or relationships, the list goes on. Modern technology makes it much easier for the perpetrators, but all of these scams were tried through other media long before the invention of the internet. Even President Hoover was a target for scammers. Here’s one example.

On Sunday, October 20, 1929, Mr. Hoover received the following urgent telegram:telegram

Nothing will more quickly panic a parent, even the President of the United States, than the possibility that his child may be in trouble. The telegram purports to be from the Hoover’s younger son, Allan, claiming that he is in police custody in South Bend, Indiana, and asking for money for transportation to Washington by way of Cleveland.

Allan, who was 22 at the time, was a student at Harvard Business School in Boston. Classes had recently started for the fall, and there was no reason to think that Allan might have been in South Bend. Mr. and Mrs. Hoover were preparing to leave later that day for a trip to Ohio and Michigan, and had actually talked to Allan on the telephone the previous day to invite him to come on the trip if he could spare the time. Due to his class schedule, Allan had declined the invitation.

But as the penciled note on the telegram indicates, Mr. Hoover personally telephoned Allan to make sure nothing was wrong. Once the telegram was confirmed as a hoax, he shared it with Mrs. Hoover and her secretary, Ruth Fesler, and apparently they all had a good laugh.

But I would guess that the telegraph operator in South Bend, who let the scammer talk him into sending it collect, didn’t think it was very funny.

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Microphone Malfunctions and Campaigns


Rep. Joseph Martin, Jr. of MA and Herbert Hoover address the Republican Convention, June 25, 1940.

In the wake of the recent Presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump pointed to a malfunctioning microphone and spotty sound system as one of the reasons his voice was not heard.  This Hoover archivist was reminded of a previous episode of microphone malfeasance and its impact on a Presidential hopeful.

The year was 1940.  World War II had broken out in Europe, and America was just beginning to recover from the Great Depression.  Incumbent Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was lining up for an unprecedented campaign for a third term as President.  The Republican Party had no shortage of candidates eager to run against Roosevelt: Landon, Dewey, Taft, and Willkie.  Former President Herbert Hoover harbored hopes that the GOP might draft him for a run if the convention could not reach consensus.  Hoover was counting on his speech to the RNC to rally support to his candidacy.

Late in the evening of June 25, 1940, Herbert Hoover approached the stage at the RNC in Philadelphia.  He was greeted by a rousing ovation. These were his people, and they anticipated a fiery attack on Roosevelt, internationalism, and the New Deal from Hoover.  For his part, Hoover hoped to ride the wave of acclaim from this speech to the Republican nomination.  But the stampede to draft Hoover did not occur.

Many in the hall had difficulty hearing Hoover, shouting ‘Louder! We can’t hear you!’ Some blamed it on Hoover being too attentive to television cameras and microphones [this was the first political convention to be televised].  Others blamed it on Hoover standing too far from the microphones.  Still others hinted that malign forces had tampered with the sound system.   One Hoover backer swore the microphone ‘had been deliberately rigged and the loud speaker cut off.’  In any event, the damage was done.  Hoover did not emerge as a dark horse; Willkie led the Republican ticket to defeat in November 1940.

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