After their nuptials, the newlyweds departed on a honeymoon cruise to China, where Hoover had accepted a position as mining consultant to the Chinese emperor. Barely a year into their married life, the Hoovers got caught in China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, in which Chinese nationalists rebelled against European colonial control and besieged 800 westerners in the city of Tientsin. Hoover led a group of westerners in building protective barricades while Lou volunteered in a nearby hospital. After the rebellion was put down by an international coalition of troops, the Hoovers left China, splitting their time between residences in California and London and traveling the world.
Raised in Monterey, California, Lou Henry shared her husband’s appreciation of the outdoors and athletics. While Hoover served as secretary of commerce in the early 1920s, she helped build the Girl Scouts organization and presided over the Women’s Division of the National Amateur Athletic Federation. The Hoovers’ experience in China inspired them to also engage in relief work for refugees and tourists stranded in hostile countries. During World War I, Lou chaired the American Women’s War Relief Fund and other war-related charitable organizations. In 1929, she became the first president’s wife to invite the wife of an African-American congressman to a social function at the White House. The civic-minded and intelligent Mrs. Hoover spoke five languages, authored books and articles and received eight honorary degrees in her lifetime.
Hoover’s tenure as president coincided with the Great Depression. Although he had warned against the type of market speculation that led to the stock market crash of 1929, the country blamed him for the Depression for the rest of his term. Lou Hoover stepped up her charitable work during the crisis, but received harsh criticism for continuing to hold lavish White House social events at a time when unprecedented numbers of American citizens suffered utter poverty. Her actions contributed to the president’s unpopularity and Hoover left office in disgrace after one term.