Herbert Hoover and Children
Richard Norton Smith and Timothy Walch
In the bleak, intemperate spring of 1932, the president of the United States found three children on his doorstep. Their father was an unemployed laborer from Detroit, arrested on a charge of auto theft while en route home from a job-hunting trip out west. Soon after, this trio of unhappy youngsters set off for the nation’s capital, believing the man in the White House was possessed of unlimited powers. They were determined to lay their case before him.
The president’s advisors thought him far too busy to hear such an appeal. There was, after all, a worldwide depression to combat, a jittery nation to reassure, a political campaign to organize. Herbert Hoover thought otherwise. “Never mind the arguments,” he told Press Secretary Ted Joslin, “I am going to see them.”106
“Now Bernice,” Hoover remarked to their thirteen-year-old leader, “tell me the whole story.” As he listened the muscles in his face twitched in an effort to control his emotions. As the girl finished, the president said that there must be a great deal of good in any man whose children were so devoted. “Now run along. I will use my good offices in this matter.” Then he took from his desk a keepsake for each. “You can have these to remember me by,” he said. When the children left the room, Hoover’s head dropped to his chest, and tears welled in his eyes. Embarrassed by his display of emotion, Hoover turned toward a window and called to Joslin. “Get that father out of jail immediately,” the president commanded.
Joslin asked permission to describe the dramatic encounter for the press. It was exactly the kind of story that would humanize the chief executive, drawing out the compassion that had once made him a global hero. Hoover would have none of it. The children might remember his act of kindness. But neither it, nor they, would be exploited for political advantage.