Unknown Historical Figures – Lou Henry Hoover

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Lou Henry Hoover was born in Waterloo, Iowa on March 29, 1874 to an average home. Lou grew up something of a tomboy in Waterloo. Charles Henry took his daughter on camping trips in the hills—her greatest pleasures in her early teens. Lou became a fine horsewoman and she developed an enthusiasm for rocks, minerals, and mining.

She attended San Jose Normal School (now San Jose State University). But in 1894 and she enrolled—as the school’s only female geology major—at Stanford University, where she met Herbert Hoover. On February 10, 1899, Lou Henry married Herbert Hoover in California. They were both 24 and had both finished their schooling entirely. Herbert Hoover’s job required them to move to China for a time and while there they witnessed the Boxer Rebellion and Lou and Herbert both became very proficient in Chinese.  Mrs. Hoover was also well versed in Latin; she collaborated with her husband in translating Agricola’s “De Re Metallica”, a 16th-century encyclopedia of metallurgy and mining. The Hoover translation was published in 1912, and remains in print today as the standard English translation.

When Lou Henry Hoover became first Lady in 1929, she provided the nation with an array of firsts for the First Ladyship. She was the first and only First Lady to speak an Asian language and was the first First Lady to broadcast on a regular basis as a guest speaker. Lou Henry Hoover also provided the basis for the Camp David retreat for the Presidents whenever they needed it. She also removed the New Year’s Day reception in the White House that was established since 1801. She served as the national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA from 1922 to 1925 while Hoover served in the cabinet of Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Warren G. Harding. She served as president again after leaving the White House for a few years. The Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover House in Palo Alto’s foothills is now the official residence of the President of Stanford University. It is located near the campus’s center and is designated a National Historic Landmark. The Lou Henry Elementary was founded in Mrs Hoover’s honor in Waterloo, Iowa in 2005. One of the brick dorms known now as “The Classics” at San Jose State University is named “Hoover Hall” in her honor. She funded the construction of the first Girl Scout house in Palo Alto, California. The oldest Girl Scout house in continuous use, it was called Lou Henry Hoover Girl Scout House.

Lou Henry Hoover died of a heart attack in New York City on January 7, 1944 and predeceased Herbert Hoover by 20 years. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Jean Henri Dunant

Jean Henri Dunant, also known as Henry Dunant, was born on May 8, 1828 in Geneva, Switzerland and was the first son a businessman. His parents stressed the value of social work and they were very active in the Geneva society. Dunant spent much of his free time engaged in prison visits and social work during his late adolescence.

On November 30, 1852, Dunant founded the Geneva version of the YMCA and three years later he took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of its international organization. Dunant visited Tunisia, Algeria, and Sicily and published a book on his journey in 1858 called “An Account of the Regency in Tunis”. In 1856, Dunant went to appeal with Napoleon III of France for his land rights in French-occupied Algeria but the French emperor was at his headquarters in Solferino. Dunant had to pack his gear and fo to see him personally to ensure the emperor see the case in Dunant’s favor. He arrived in Solferino on June 24,1859 as a battle was being fought not too far from where he went to see Napoleon III.Twenty-three thousand wounded, dying and dead remained on the battlefield with no care being provided for either side. Dunant himself took the initiative to organize the civilians of Solferino, especially the females, to provide assistance to the injured and sick soldiers. They lacked sufficient materials and supplies, but Dunant himself set up the purchase of the materials they needed to continue to help these soldiers. He convinced them to service the wounded regardless of their position in the battle as per the slogan “Tutti fratelli” (All are brothers).

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Dunant wrote a book on the battle and its aftermath called “A Memory of Solferino” and printed the first 1,600 copies himself in 1862. He develops, from his experience, the idea that in the future an organization should exist to give neutral care to both sides wounded. Dunant was then a part of the creation of a five person committee which included: Gustave Moynier (President of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare), Henri Dufour (Swiss army general), Louis Appia (doctor) and Theodore Maunoir (doctor). The first meeting on February 17, 1863 was considered the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross but conflicts between Moynier and Dunant caused Dunant to remain in the shadows of the committee (meaning he was a member but hardly participated in meetings, almost non-member). 

Five years later, Dunant’s business in Algeria failed and he was forced to resign as a part of the Committee because he was a part of the Calvinist Geneva. After his mother died in late 1868, he was also expelled from the YMCA and Moynier went out of his way to ensure that Dunant received no help and that he was essentially forgotten for a time. During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Dunant created the Common Relief Society and to advocate his ideas while ignoring his piling debt and poverty. He was an honorary member of a number of Red Cross regional branches but he lived in poverty from 1874-1886 and was nearly completely forgotten in history. But, after moving to Heiden in 1888, he was inspired by a homely couple of doctors to write about his life experiences and in 1895, he resurfaced in the public eye. 

Georg Baumberger, chief editor of St Gall neswpaper, wrote an article about Dunant as the founder of the Red Cross. The article entitled “Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross“, appeared in the German Illustrated Magazine Über Land und Meer, and the article was soon reprinted in other publications throughout Europe. The article struck a chord, and he received renewed attention and support and with that came the release of his financial strain. As a result, he received the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 that was jointly given to him and Frederic Passy, a French pacifist.

Sinister plots from Moynier and Dunant’s creditors caused Dunant to suffer from paranoia and depression in his final years of life. He died on October 30, 1910, and his final words were “Where has humanity gone?” He outlived his nemesis Moynier by just two months.