On October 10, a contingent of 20 students and three faculty from William Penn University visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa.
Hoover has two important resonances for the William Penn community: he is the only president from Iowa, and he is one of two Quaker presidents.
Dr. Lisa Ossian, who teaches history at William Penn, is writing a book about Herbert Hoover titled The Grimmest Spectre. The book will examine the world famine survey that Hoover made at the request of President Harry Truman in 1946 and 1947, which led to the formation of UNICEF and the Marshall Plan.
“I think it’s important to know that we have a presidential library just an hour and a half away, with all that that offers,” Ossian said. “The museum helps us understand early Iowa history and how it transformed. Hoover was a part of all that, from commerce to his Quaker views to his humanitarian efforts.”
Students got the opportunity to see Hoover’s birthplace, the Quaker meeting house he worshiped in as a child, and his father’s blacksmith shop, which are all on the museum grounds.
The Hoover Library is one of only 14 presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. After a tour of the museum, students got a special presentation from two of the archivists, Spencer Howard and Matt Schaefer.
The archivists’ presentation highlighted connections to William Penn University, including the fact that his older brother, Theodore Hoover, attended the institution for a period and wrote in his diary about his disappointment with the lack of sports on campus at the time. In 1925, Herbert Hoover gave the commencement address at the college when he was U.S. Secretary of Commerce and planted a tree on the grounds, which has since died.
Sophomore Cory Vollmer, a history major from Kaufman, Texas, said he really enjoyed the tour of the archives, including brief admission into a locked room that usually only archivists can enter. Vollmer attended as a student in the Public and Local History class, a new offering by adjunct instructor Margaret Spiegel, who is the curator of the Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum.
“Everyone there really had a genuine love for keeping that place up,” Vollmer said. “It was cool to see the archives and the old church, and the little house where he was born. Seeing where he came from to where he ended up was very, very interesting.”
Ossian said sometimes the only thing people know about Hoover is that he was president when the Great Depression hit, which she thinks is unfortunate because he lived a full life of service.
On the tour students learned about Hoover’s lucrative career as a mining engineer, which was followed by his getting involved with relief famine efforts during World War I. Hoover led the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), which was estimated to have fed 10 million people over a five-year period. For this work, he earned the nickname the Great Humanitarian.
Freshman Amber Anderson, a political science major from Chicago, Ill., said she only had a surface-level view of Hoover before.
“He gets a bad rap as the president who caused the Great Depression, but he didn’t — it was just something that happened at the time,” Anderson said. “I got to learn a lot more about him like the campaigns he had for feeding people who were starving before he was president. His humanitarianism and his willingness to help people really stuck out to me.”
Freshman James Zierke, a political science major from Homestead, Iowa, said he came away with an enriched viewpoint on Hoover.
“I had been to the museum before, but I guess I paid attention this time,” Zierke said. “There was a lot I didn’t know about Hoover. He took advantage of his lame duck period and did so much good. He was such a traveled person and was so impressive as a former president.”