A Path To Peace

"We not only desire peace for ourselves, but we want to see peace between other nations."
—Herbert Hoover

Handmade heart-shaped thank you card from Belgium. From the Commission for RElief in Belgium Records at the Hoover Institution Archives.

A desire for a peaceful world was rooted in Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover's upbringing, yet–like many of the era–they truly developed their passion for it as they witnessed the First World War up-close and in person. The Hoovers were both instrumental in providing aid to those affected by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

At the time, Herbert Hoover was a businessman living in London. His name came into national prominence when he arranged to furnish emergency funds and transportation to more than one hundred thousand American tourists stranded in England by the war. Lou Henry Hoover provided resources like food and clothing for those who were stranded.

Photo of Herbert & Lou Henry Hoover with their sons about to depart London, 1917. From the Berton W. Crandall Photographs, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Herbert & Lou Henry Hoover with their sons about to depart London, 1917. Berton W. Crandall Photographs, Hoover Institution Archives

Herbert & Lou Henry Hoover with their sons about to depart London, 1917. Berton W. Crandall Photographs, Hoover Institution Archives

After Herbert Hoover established the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) to feed the citizens of German-occupied Belgium, Lou Henry Hoover helped to raise funds for one of the first shipments of food for Belgium by starting a California branch of the CRB.

Photo of a CRB Donation Envelope, circa 1914.  From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives

CRB Donation Envelope, circa 1914. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

CRB Donation Envelope, circa 1914. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

When America entered the war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson summoned Herbert Hoover to Washington to become head of the US Food Administration, whose purpose was to marshal the country’s food supply for the war effort, and Lou Henry Hoover worked to enlist American women into the food conservation program.

The Great Humanitarian

Herbert Hoover

Photograph of Herbert Hoover overseeing the shipping of relief supplies to post-war Europe from NY, 1920.  From the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Herbert Hoover overseeing the shipping of relief supplies to post-war Europe from NY, 1920. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Herbert Hoover overseeing the shipping of relief supplies to post-war Europe from NY, 1920. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

During the First World War, Herbert Hoover’s Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) bought and shipped 5.7 million tons of food to nearly 9.5 million civilians in Belgium and Northern France. Hoover was lauded worldwide as the "savior of Belgium.” At war’s end, Hoover joined the peacemakers in Paris, where he directed food and other relief to former allied and enemy countries alike.

Robert Arrowsmith Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

After the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, Hoover served as chairman of the American Relief Administration (ARA). The ARA conducted humanitarian operations in more than twenty countries, including Soviet Russia during the Great Famine of 1921–23.

ARA Feeding Station in the one time palace of the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovska [sic], circa 1921. American Relief Administration Russian Operational Records, Hoover Institution Archives

During those postwar years, the ARA brought food and other aid to tens of millions of people, earning Herbert Hoover an international reputation as “The Great Humanitarian.”

Photograph of America the Host by Alfred Gerstenbrand, pastel on paper, 1921. From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection at the Hoover Institution Archives

America the Host by Alfred Gerstenbrand, pastel on paper, 1921. Herbert Hoover Subject Collection. Inscription at the bottom ends by stating the artwork is "to be presented to him who has done more to save human lives than any man living Herbert Hoover"

America the Host by Alfred Gerstenbrand, pastel on paper, 1921. Herbert Hoover Subject Collection. Inscription at the bottom ends by stating the artwork is "to be presented to him who has done more to save human lives than any man living Herbert Hoover"

Map of Belgium and the North of France delineating the routes of CRB distribution. From the Robert Arrowsmith Papers, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Robert Arrowsmith Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Robert Arrowsmith Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Photograph of an ARA Feeding Station in the one time place of the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovska, circa 1921.  From the American Relief Administration Russian Operational Records, at the Hoover Institution Archives

ARA Feeding Station in the one time palace of the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovska [sic], circa 1921. American Relief Administration Russian Operational Records, Hoover Institution Archives

ARA Feeding Station in the one time palace of the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovska [sic], circa 1921. American Relief Administration Russian Operational Records, Hoover Institution Archives

The Understated Activist

Lou Henry Hoover

Photo of the cover of the pamphlet Belgium’s Need, Notes of a talk given by Lou Henry Hoover in October 1915.  From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives

Belgium’s Need, Notes of a talk given by Lou Henry Hoover in October 1915. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

Belgium’s Need, Notes of a talk given by Lou Henry Hoover in October 1915. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

At the outbreak of the Great War, Lou Henry Hoover took on a number of responsibilities. She aided civilians as the only woman on the board of the American Citizens’ Committee in London, an organization that helped Americans escape the war in Europe. She created and oversaw the Resident American Women’s Relief Committee.

Photograph of a CRB Children's Fund fundraising card, circa 1915.  From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives

CRB Children's Fund fundraising card, circa 1915. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

CRB Children's Fund fundraising card, circa 1915. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

Her work in Europe also included the War Relief Knitting Factory, the American Women’s War Relief Fund’s hospital for wounded soldiers, and the Lace Committee of the CRB, which bolstered the Belgian lace industry during the war.

Lou Henry Hoover (wearing a Belgian lace shawl), by Harris and Ewing, n.d. Susan Louis Dyer Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

During the war, Lou Henry Hoover made several dangerous cross-Atlantic trips to conduct relief work and support philanthropic groups.

Photograph of a War Zone Pass, Mrs. Herbert Hoover and party of six,  1918.  From the Lou Henry Hoover Miscellaneous Papers, at the Hoover Institution Archives

War Zone Pass, Mrs. Herbert Hoover and party of six, 1918. Lou Henry Hoover Miscellaneous Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

War Zone Pass, Mrs. Herbert Hoover and party of six, 1918. Lou Henry Hoover Miscellaneous Papers, Hoover Institution Archives


Friends of Lace, circa 1915. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photograph of Lou Henry Hoover (wearing a Belgian lace shawl), by Harris and Ewing, n.d. From the Susan Louis Dyer Papers, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Lou Henry Hoover (wearing a Belgian lace shawl), by Harris and Ewing, n.d. Susan Louis Dyer Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Lou Henry Hoover (wearing a Belgian lace shawl), by Harris and Ewing, n.d. Susan Louis Dyer Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Cliche des “Amies de la Dentelle” (Photo of "Friends of Lace"), circa 1915. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Friends of Lace, circa 1915. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

Friends of Lace, circa 1915. Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914–1930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of a Belgian Fan-leaf Point de Gaze needle lace by Lucie Rothschild-Lambert, 1914, cotton and silk. From the Lou Henry Hoover Miscellaneous Papers at the Hoover Institution Archives

Belgian Fan-leaf Point de Gaze needle lace by Lucie Rothschild-Lambert, cotton and silk, 1914. Lou Henry Hoover Miscellaneous Papers

Belgian Fan-leaf Point de Gaze needle lace by Lucie Rothschild-Lambert, cotton and silk, 1914. Lou Henry Hoover Miscellaneous Papers

Gifts of Thanks

Photo of the Verso of embroidered flour sack, circa 1915.  From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Verso of embroidered flour sack, circa 1915. Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, Hoover Institution Archives

Verso of embroidered flour sack, circa 1915. Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of stacked American relief flour sacks in Belgium, circa 1915. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives
Photo of stacked American relief flour sacks in Belgium, circa 1915. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives

Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (19141930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of Unloading relief flour sacks from ships in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Institution Archives
Photo of Unloading relief flour sacks from ships in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Institution Archives

Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (19141930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of a CRB warehouse in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives
Photo of a CRB warehouse in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives

Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (19141930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of An embroidered Belgian flour sack given to Herbert Hoover in thanks for his role in the CRB. From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, at the Hoover Institution Archives
Photo of An embroidered Belgian flour sack given to Herbert Hoover in thanks for his role in the CRB. From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of An embroidered Belgian flour sack given to Herbert Hoover in thanks for his role in the CRB. From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of stacked American relief flour sacks in Belgium, circa 1915. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives
Photo of stacked American relief flour sacks in Belgium, circa 1915. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives

Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (19141930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of Unloading relief flour sacks from ships in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Institution Archives
Photo of Unloading relief flour sacks from ships in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Institution Archives

Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (19141930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of a CRB warehouse in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives
Photo of a CRB warehouse in Belgium. From the Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (1914-1930), at the Hoover Institution Archives

Commission for Relief in Belgium Records (19141930), Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of An embroidered Belgian flour sack given to Herbert Hoover in thanks for his role in the CRB. From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, at the Hoover Institution Archives
Photo of An embroidered Belgian flour sack given to Herbert Hoover in thanks for his role in the CRB. From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, Hoover Institution Archives

Photo of An embroidered Belgian flour sack given to Herbert Hoover in thanks for his role in the CRB. From the Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, at the Hoover Institution Archives

Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, Hoover Institution Archives

The Commission for Relief in Belgium shipped 697,116,000 pounds of flour from American mills to Belgium between 1914 and 1919.

The CRB flour sacks were carefully controlled as soon as they were unloaded in Belgium. And while the flour was the most valuable part, the cotton flour sacks were almost equally desired. 

Once the flour was distributed, the empty sacks were shared with professional schools, sewing shops, convents and artists.  There, the cotton fabric was used to make new clothing, pillows, bags, and other needed items.

Known for their skilled needlecraft, many Belgians embroidered over the mill logo and brand name, or created their own designs that celebrated and thanked American efforts to support them.  Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover received hundreds of such embroidered gifts of thanks. 


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