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Herber Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
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Introduction Activity 1 Activity 2 Activity 3


Herbert Hoover
Commission for Relief in Belgium

Exploring Primary Sources held at the Hoover Presidential Library

Historical documents pertaining to Herbert Hoover and the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB): 1914-1917 are online at the Hoover Presidential Library's Website: www.hoover.archives.gov

This study guide is designed to assist teachers and students in the study of the Commission for Relief in Belgium: 1914-1917. Included are suggested activities, historical background information, excerpts from secondary sources, and primary source materials.

Selected documents from the collections held at the Hoover Presidential Library have been scanned. These will be of interest to students and teachers wanting to enrich their understanding of Herbert Hoover and his work with the Commission for Relief in Belgium. This publication is designed to give students direct contact with the materials of history: documents, letters, newspaper clippings, telegrams, and photographs. These primary documents are presented in three formats: thumbnail, full size, and full text transcription. Exploring the past through a hands-on approach using primary materials will help bring Herbert Hoover, the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and the years of 1914-1917 to life.

Letter of thanks by Ernest Raemdonckse; 1915; 62.1.339

A Letter of Thanks


Herbert Hoover and International Relief: a Brief Overview: 1914-1917

World War I was but a few days old when Herbert Hoover traded his role as an engineer for that of a humanitarian. Thousands of American tourists and other travelers
Herbert Hoover; Ca. 1914; 1914-32

Photograph of Herbert Hoover
were caught abroad with worthless currencies, letters of credit not honored by banks and tickets issued on German steamship lines. The old world of the 19th Century was disappearing in a dizzying stream of events no one yet understood. American consuls and embassies all over Europe were inundated by panic-stricken Americans trying to obtain passage back to the United States. Hoover organized a committee of American businessmen living in London to help fellow Americans avoid an ever-widening European War.

The "Committee of American Residents in London for Assistance of American Travelers" with Hoover as chairman set up a simple banking system using their personal fortunes to loan money to those unable to raise funds on their own. The committee arranged tickets for passage to America, recovered lost luggage or purchased new clothing and secured meals and lodging until passenger ships could sail for America. In early October Hoover called upon Walter Hines Page, the American Ambassador in London, and disclosed that he was critically thinking of expanding his efforts and using his administrative talents to help the starving residents of Belgium secure food. Page and Hoover agreed that a committee of Americans should be formed to "centralize and direct American relief efforts for the Belgians."

On August 4, 1914 Belgium had been overrun by the German army which was heading for Paris via Belgium. King Albert and his army stood up to the larger German forces with such resistance that their acts of bravery became legendary.

Belgium was blockaded by the British and occupied by a German army that had very little sympathy for the civilian population; over seven million Belgians faced certain starvation. Hoover's undertaking to feed an entire country would not be an easy one. War was raging in Europe; his family had recently sailed on the Lusitania for California; his mining affairs in Russia, Burma and Australia were in disarray. Could his skills as an engineer or his knowledge of business be sufficient to accomplish the enormous task set before him? Whatever the task, Hoover was the man for the job. His relentless energy combined with urgent action would keep the Belgian people from starvation.


Exploring Primary Source Materials held at the Hoover Presidential Library
Note to Teachers

This project is designed to encourage the use of primary documents in the teaching of history with students 10-15 years of age. The documents are online in their original form and may be printed and reproduced for classroom use.

Primary source research brings a reality to history often missing in the general textbooks and provides an enriching learning experience. Students feel the excitement of working with a variety of historical sources, gathering and organizing information, and drawing conclusions.

These lessons correlate to the U.S. National World History Standards.
ERA 8: The 20th Century
Standard 2: The causes and global consequences of World War I
2B: The global scope and human costs of World War I


Learning Objectives


Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library
West Branch, Iowa
Hoover Presidential Library

Working as historians, your students will use a variety of historical materials that are part of the collection of the Hoover Presidential Library. The Library was dedicated on August 10, 1962, two years before Hoover's death in 1964.

President Hoover spoke these words at the dedication:

When the members of the Congress created these Presidential Libraries they did a great public service. They made available for research the records of vital periods in American history - and they planted these records in the countryside instead of allowing their concentration on the seaboard.
Already the three libraries of President Roosevelt, President Truman, and President Eisenhower, by their unique documentation, serve this purpose, and today we dedicate a fourth - my own.
Within them are thrilling records of supreme action by the American people, their devotion and sacrifice to their ideals.
Santayana rightly said: 'Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.' These institutions are the repositories of such experience - hot off the griddle. In these records there are no doubt, unfavorable remarks made by our political opponents, as well as expressions of appreciation and affection by our friends. We may hope that future students will rely upon our friends. In any event, when they become sleepy they may be awakened by the lightning flashes of American political humor.
A Proposal for Greater Safety for America
"It is exactly 88 years since I first came to Iowa. Since that visit, I have seen much of peoples, of governments, of their institutions, and of human woes. I can county fifty nations with which I had something to do. I was not a tourist; I worked with their people. In my professional years I brought to them American technology with its train of greater productivity and better living. In two wars I served amidst famine. And in the war-shattered aftermath, I directed reconstruction in many nations. I have worked with great spiritual leaders and with great statesmen. I have lived under governments of free men, of kings and dictators, and under Fascism and Communism.
Uppermost in the minds and prayers of the plain people everywhere was that war should cease and that peace would come to the world. They treasured a confidence that America would maintain freedom and that we would cooperate to bring peace to all mankindů."

(Address by Herbert Hoover at Dedication of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. West Branch, Iowa, August 10, 1962)



What Constitutes a Primary Source?

Primary Sources are materials written, printed, or recorded during the period of time being studied - think in terms of eye witness as a good starting point. A document that is created at the time.

Secondary Sources are written by people who have studied primary sources and written down generalizations. For use in this study guide on Herbert Hoover and the CRB the principal secondary source was George H. Nash's The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Humanitarian,1914-1917, published by W.W. Norton & Company in 1988.

Primary sources require special handling. Use a pencil for taking notes because ink can leave unwanted permanent marks on documents. Paper for taking notes should be placed on a table, not on the document or record book from which information is being copied. Turn pages carefully being respectful of the age of the document.

A different kind of caution is exercised when using secondary sources. Students must realize that not everything in print is true or accurate. When a question arises about the authenticity of a secondary source, consider who wrote the materials. Is this a person known to have good historical judgment? Is this person's account accurate and fair? What primary sources did this person use? Historians have found stories full of error repeated over and over in print, with one author after another copying the error from an earlier publication because no one bothered to check back to the primary materials.



Where Can Primary Sources Be Found?

A good place to begin is with personal collections. Students' families or older residents of the community may have diaries, letters, account books, business records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, or photo albums that will give information about the past. Keepsakes and heirlooms can also tell about the way people used to live.

Local newspapers are good primary sources. Newspapers may be found in attics, basements, libraries, newspaper offices, or local historical societies. Some newspapers have been recorded on microfilm, and local libraries may have copies of these.

Early in the history of Iowa, newspapers were the main source of public communication. Almost every town or village had a paper. In the papers published between 1830 and 1860 the arrangement of news was quite different from modern newspapers. Papers usually consisted of four or eight pages, with the two outside pages often being reprints from other newspapers or national ads. Local events and politics were reported inside along with the weather and prices for products in agricultural areas.

You will notice a distinct difference in the quality of the newsprint for old papers. Before 1880, newspapers were printed on paper with high rag content. These remain in fine condition if they have been properly stored. Later, less expensive newsprint made of wood pulp was used, and the high acid content of this paper caused it to deteriorate quickly. It becomes discolored, brittle, extremely fragile, and must be handled with extra caution. (Bonney, Margaret Atherton, Iowa Local History - A Teacher's Guide. Iowa State Historical Society, 1977.)



Primary Sources May Also Be Found In:


Why Use Primary Sources?

Primary sources make history "come alive" as students see the story unfold in its own time. Primary sources allow for the joy of finding answers to questions -- like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. The joy of discovery goes beyond dates and understanding about a person, place or time as the document gives history a voice to people of the past and validity to the story they have to tell.

Quote by Woodrow Wilson on Belgian Relief; Ca. 1915; Herbert Hoover Pre-Commerce Papers; Correspondence; Box 18; Wilson, Woodrow; 1913-1916 Cable from Herbert Hoover to Lou Henry Hoover; 10/24/1914; Lou Henry Hoover Papers; Correspondence; Box 5; Hoover, Herbert; 1912-1914 Gallant Belgium; 12/13/1914; Commission for Relief in Belgium Records; Scrapbooks; News Cuttings; vol. 3, page 1