Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Hoover Institution: The Great War's Greatest Depository

 (Note:  This is where your editor learned an awful lot of stuff about World War I.)

Hoover Tower, Stanford University

The First World War demonstrated the horrors of humanity and technology on a never before seen scale. In the midst of the atrocities, Herbert Hoover, a Stanford alumnus and successful mining engineer, oversaw food relief efforts in Belgium. It was in this capacity that he was inspired to document the history of war and political change. He later reflected on this inspiration, writing "The position I held [as a relief administrator] required regular visits to several belligerent countries. It seemed to me to offer a unique opportunity to collect and preserve such records. I therefore established centers for such collections in each country and enlisted the aid of others who believed in the importance of the work."

Hoover first met President Wilson in May 1915.  The meeting was prompted by allegations that Hoover’s work with the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) placed him in violation of the Logan Act. This act made it a crime for American citizens to negotiate with foreign governments. Technically, Hoover had transgressed, but Wilson immediately saw the big-picture benefits afforded by Hoover feeding Belgians. Wilson issued a statement [written by Hoover] publicly supporting the work of the CRB.

Hoover (Upper Left) Became an Insider
of the Wilson Administration*

The Hoover War Collection was established as a library and archives, cementing the Institution's roots in history and scholarship.

Herbert Hoover conceived the idea for gathering materials on World War I while he was organizing humanitarian relief for Belgium. He began the collection in June 1919, when he was at the Paris Peace Conference advising President Wilson. The founding document of the Hoover Institution is a telegram from Herbert Hoover to Stanford president Ray Lyman Wilbur offering $50,000 for the collecting effort and instructing Wilbur to send Professor Ephraim D. Adams to Paris to begin work.

The Telegrams That Started It All

In addition to Hoover's collecting documents while in Europe, Stanford professor and war scholar Ephraim Adams, Stanford history graduate Ralph Lutz and historian Frank Golder traveled across Europe to collect pamphlets, newspapers, posters, and government documents for the archives. The founding collections include the extensive files of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, the U.S. Food Administration, and the American Relief Administration in Europe and Russia.

In 1922 the Hoover War Collection was renamed the Hoover War Library on the basis of the collection of primary materials related to World War I. During the course of that year, the library collected 40,000 documents that were housed in the Stanford Library. In 1938 the name was again changed to the Hoover Library on War, Revolution and Peace.

The First Delivery of Documents to Palo Alto

Since the mid-1920s, Hoover and Stanford had been planning to move the library into its own building. The Great Depression, however, made fundraising nearly impossible; it was not until 1938 that Stanford decided $600,000 was sufficient for the building. The design, as seen here, was contracted to Arthur Brown Jr., who also designed Stanford's University Library, San Francisco City Hall, and San Francisco's Coit Tower. Construction broke ground in 1939.

Herbert Hoover defined the institution's mission: "The overall mission of this Institution is, from its records, to recall the voice of experience against the making of war, and by the study of these records and their publication, to recall man's endeavors to make and preserve peace, and to sustain for America the safeguards of the American way of life. This Institution is not, and must not be, a mere library. But with these purposes as its goal, the Institution itself must constantly and dynamically point the road to peace, to personal freedom, and to the safeguards of the American system."

(Sources: Various Hoover Institution sources; Freedom Betrayed introduction, by George Nash)


*ca. 1918 President Woodrow Wilson and his war council. Back row (from left to right): Herbert Hoover, Edward M. Hurley, Vance McCormick, James Garfield. Front row (left to right): Benedict Crowell, William G. McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson, Josephus Daniels, Bernard Baruch.

1 comment:

  1. most interesting. c. 1966-1967 I was in Prof. Paul Seabury's Int'l Relations seminar @ UC Berkeley....Alexander Kerensky, then a Fellow at the Hoover Institute, come over one day for some Q & A. I can't remember a word he said, but do recall thinking how remarkable it was to be in the same room with a man who was in the snakepit with Ulyanov, Bronstein, Djugashvili et al. Too bad Kerensky didn't liquidate them all when he had the chance.