Jesse Hoover moved from Ohio with his
father Eli, in 1854. They traveled by river boat and covered
wagon to a farm outside West Branch, Iowa, a small town
founded by Quakers. In 1870, Jesse,
now the town blacksmith, married Hulda
Minthorn, a teacher from Ontario, Canada.
The Hoovers began a family in a small
cottage by the
Wapsinonoc Creek. Their first
son Theodore (Tad, 1871) was followed on August 10, 1874 by
another boy, Herbert
Clark Hoover (Bert.) On the occasion of his son's birth
Jesse went through town declaring, "We have another General
Grant in our house." Herbert's birth was followed in 1876 by
the birth of a sister, Mary (May).
children spent their early years growing up in West
Branch, Iowa. West Branch provided both joys and hazards of
life. The children could hike, explore, and swim as well as
hunt for fossils and agate in the glacial gravel along the
railroad tracks. Their Quaker upbringing forbade the Hoover
boys from carrying a gun, so they learned to hunt for rabbit
and prairie chickens with bow and arrow. They learned these
skills from young Indian boys who were attending a local
government training school. Willow poles, butcher string
lines and hooks that cost a penny apiece provided Herbert
Hoover with sunfish and catfish. There was also Cook's Hill
for sledding on home-made sleds.
Their fun was tempered by the possibility of
natural disaster and disease. The Iowa summer sun could
scorch crops; prairie storms might wash out spring plantings
or level a dwelling; the relentless winter favored typhus,
diphtheria and pneumonia. Herbert
Hoover's own memories give a glimpse into his childhood.
He remembered trips into the country with his father Jesse.
He also recalls as a small boy getting stuck in mud while
crossing an unpaved road during a particularly rainy summer.
"Papa's little stick-in-the-mud," his father called him as
he lifted Bert to freedom.
A lifelong scar on the bottom of his foot
reminded Bert of the time he walked into his father's
blacksmith shop barefooted, and stepped on a hot chip of iron. He also recalled his father's farm implement shop
which his father established after blacksmithing. At this
shop there was a machine for putting barbs on wire. After
this was done, the wires were dipped into hot tar to retard
rust. Bert remembers trying an experiment whereby he put a
lighted stick into the bubbling tar and caused huge clouds
of smoke which brought the whole town running.
Herbert Hoover spent his first eleven years, practiced a
strict Quaker morality. The Hoovers grew up within a sect
that made its own affirmation of a rational, usable world.
[The Quakers valued a blunt plainness. They believed
that people will work well together, and that through
rational discussion, compromise was possible.] They were
dedicated to peace, and the belief that good common reason
and strategic planning provide one with an uncluttered
The Hoover family figured prominently in the
town's religious life. Hulda Hoover was a recorded minister
who frequently spoke out at the Friends' meetings. Her faith
was expressed in temperance and charitable activities.
Herbert Hoover recalled that the Friends had "always held to
education, thrift, and individual enterprise. In consequence
of plain living and hard work poverty has never been their
lot." He also recalled that the long hours of Quaker
meetings waiting for the spirit to move someone provided
him with strong training in the virtue of patience.
On December 13, 1880, Jesse
Hoover died at the
age of 34. Hulda and the children remained in West
Branch, where she earned money working as a seamstress. She
occasionally boarded Herbert with Uncle Will Miles. This
gave her time to extend her godly pursuits as clerk of
meeting, teacher of Sunday School, and as a member of a
committee of correspondence charged with sending news of
Iowa Friends to England and other parts of the world. Hulda
composed poems and songs which she shared in Sunday School.
By the Quaker method of common consent, her gift in the
ministry was acknowledged, and so she traveled and spoke
throughout Iowa. A return trip home by foot from a
Springdale revival changed a chest cold into pneumonia
complicated by typhoid fever.
On February 24, 1884 she died at 35. Hulda
Hoover left more than $2000 dollars for the education of her
Tatum became legal guardian for the children. The
children were separated: May went to live with Grandmother
Minthorn, Tad went to Hubbard, Iowa and later to Newberg,
Oregon with Uncle John Minthorn, and Herbert stayed on a
farm outside of West Branch, Iowa for about a year with his
Uncle Allen Hoover. In 1885, Herbert went to live with the
Minthorn family in Oregon. Uncle Henry John Minthorn was a
doctor in the Quaker settlement of Newberg, Oregon. His only
son had died, and so the Minthorns asked for Herbert to be
sent to them.
traveled by train with
a family by the name of Hammil, who were emigrating, and had
agreed to look after him on the trip. This was not his first
time out of West Branch. Herbert had spent a few months with
an uncle, Laban Miles, on the Osage Indian Reservation in
Oklahoma Territory. He had also spent time at an Uncle's
prairie farm in western Iowa where he lived in a sod
house, and helped break new ground.
When Bert arrived in Oregon he was, "put to
school and the chores." His work at the Minthorn
farm included feeding the team of ponies twice a day,
hitching them, milking the cow, and splitting wood. He
attended the Friends Pacific Academy and excelled in
mathematics. After graduating from school, Herbert moved
with his Uncle to Salem Oregon to help open a real estate
office for his uncle and his partners. Here he was an
office-boy, but he learned to type, keep books and was
involved in general office routine. At night he attended a
local business college.
The Minthorns wanted Herbert enrolled in a
Quaker College. His brother Tad was attending William Penn
in Iowa, and Bert was to attend Earlham or Haverford
Colleges. However Bert had been urged to attend the new
tuition-free university in California, Stanford, by a
visiting mining engineer, Mr. Robert Brown. He had decided
that he wanted to become an engineer, and since Earlham
offered no engineering courses, he wanted to go to Stanford.
Dr. Joseph Swain, a noted mathematics teacher, and also a
Quaker, had come to Portland, Oregon to recruit and
administer entrance examinations to students. Bert needed
some tutoring in all but mathematics and so left for Palo
Alto in the summer of 1891.