When people think of warrior Presidents, Herbert Hoover doesn’t normally jump to mind. During World War I, he was in charge of relief efforts for food distribution, first to occupied Belgium and then, after the U.S. entered the war, throughout America.
Still, the stock market crashed for the first time under his watch, and that’s what most people know about him. He sought to cut taxes and grant subsidies to farmers in order to keep people fed during the Great Depression, was defeated by FDR, and then spent his retirement years as a policy advocate and writer. A fairly sedate existence, marred forever by the economic failure during his tenure as President.
When his positive traits are discussed, the focus is typically on the massive relief efforts he spearheaded which kept thousands of Belgians alive through the war years. He’d kept some people alive before then, though, in a more direct way.
In 1899, the young Herbert Hoover married his wife Lou and brought her with him on an extended honeymoon to Tientsin, China. The location might not seem particularly romantic today, but at the time it offered two great benefits: an exotic locale and a well-paying job. Hoover had been offered, and accepted, a junior position at an international mining consultant firm hired by the Chinese Emperor.
This was where the young Hoover’s views on human rights came into play. A staunch Republican and believer in reform, he made efforts to ensure the local workers were treated fairly despite their lower station in life. He was, by all accounts, very well liked among the locals of Tientsin… a fact which probably saved his life. A few months into his job, the Boxer Rebellion began.
The Boxers were a nationalist group which were firmly against foreign influence of all types. They targeted Chinese Christians and, most importantly, all Westerners for death. Hoover and his wife were in the middle of one of the cities with a large contingent of Boxers when the attempted revolution came.
The youthful Herbert set to organizing defenses and preparing for a siege. He directed the 800 westerners and native Christians in forming barricades, ensuring operation of weaponry and arranging watches. He took advantage of existing equipment and buildings to ensure there would be adequate supplies and facilities for sleeping and sanitation. He also took up arms personally, when needed, as part of the defense as 30,000 Boxers attempted to break into the makeshift compound. Herbert is said to have run into a crossfire between his own people and Boxers in a successful effort to gather some kids and bring them into the safety of the compound.
The siege lasted for a month and a half, and at the end the group was rescued by an international coalition of troops. Because of his efficiency and bravery, Herbert was made a partner at the consulting group
Perhaps Herbert was inspired to such action by his wife… and not to impress her, but as a competitor. While he was coordinating the effort to keep the compound safe, Lou was traveling to and from the Tientsin hospital every day, a trip which regularly exposed her to attack by Boxers. History does not record how many enemies she killed, but Lou was an expert marksman as well as an experienced rider and is believed to have ended the lives of many attackers. And when, after the siege, she wrote a letter to a close college friend about the events, she began by writing, “You missed one of the opportunities of your life by not coming to China in the summer of 1900.”
Badass, with a more badass wife.
Question of the night: Did you do anything interesting on your honeymoon?