After marrying in Monterey, California, on February 10, 1899, Herbert and Lou Hoover left on a honeymoon cruise to China, where Hoover was to start a new job as a mining consultant to the Chinese emperor with the consulting group Bewick, Moreing and Co. The couple had been married less than a year when Chinese nationalists rebelled against colonial control of their nation, besieging 800 westerners in the city of Tientsin. Hoover led an enclave of westerners in building barricades around their residential section of the city, while Lou volunteered in the hospital. Legend holds that, during the ensuing month-long siege, Hoover rescued some Chinese children caught in the crossfire of urban combat.
After an international coalition of troops rescued the Hoovers and spirited them and other westerners out of China, Herbert Hoover was made a partner at Bewick, Moreing and Co. He and Lou split their time between residences in California and London and traveled the world between 1901 and 1909. They then returned to the U.S. and, after serving as secretary of commerce under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge from 1921 to 1924, Hoover headed the American Child Health Association and served as chairman of the Federal Street and Highway Safety Commission. During World War I, Lou chaired the American Women’s War Relief Fund and worked on behalf of other war-related charitable organizations. Both Hoovers, inspired by their experience in China, were active in helping refugees and tourists stranded in hostile countries.
In 1928, Hoover ran for president and won. Unfortunately, the couple’s charitable reputation was soon tarnished by Hoover’s ineffective leadership in staving off the Great Depression, and Lou’s ostentatious White House social functions, which appeared heartless, frivolous and irresponsible at a time when many Americans could hardly make ends meet. As the Depression deepened, a growing number of shanty towns full of destitute unemployed workers sprang up in city centers; they became known as Hoovervilles.