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Interpreting the Evidence

Red Cross Portrait of Herbert Hoover

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Comprehension

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Red Cross portrait of Herbert Hoover, 1919 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Red Cross portrait of Herbert Hoover. Hoover led several relief efforts to Europe during and after World War I, 1919.
Historical Context
Herbert Hoover, President when the Great Depression broke out in 1929, developed much of his political philosophy of voluntarism and private charity, however unpopular it eventually became, during the WWI years.  When the war broke out in 1914, Hoover, living in London at the time, organized a group of U.S. businessmen into a Committee of American Residents in London for Assistance of American Travelers to help stranded Americans get home after their letters of credit couldn’t get cashed.  100,000 were attempting to leave after Germany invaded Belgium.  The committee helped these people until money could be advanced to pay for tickets.  This experience made Hoover believe that private charity and voluntarism could be the answer to crisis situations.  After this, as Hoover was about to return to the U.S., he was asked by the U.S. Embassy to help with the situation in Belgium.  To help the starving Belgians, Hoover became the Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium.  Hoover, always one to want complete control, crossed international boundaries and spent outrageous sums to provide the needed supplies.  He was able to recruit 350 volunteers to help staff the commission.  Even though Hoover liked to think that voluntarism again came through in this crisis, 4 out of every 5 dollars actually came from government treasuries.  $12 million was required a month to feed the Belgians and $10 million of this was provided by the French and British governments.  When America started contributing, only 4.5% of U.S. contributions were from charitable funds.  Still, Hoover’s direction of this commission helped save the lives of millions of people.

Hoover’s next WWI undertaking was exactly what he’d been waiting for: an important position in Washington. Again, wanting to be completely in charge, Hoover wanted full control of every phase of food production in the U.S. Wilson came through by asking Congress to create a food administration.  Before the administration was even approved, Hoover went to work recruiting 500,000 people to go door to door asking housewives to be part of the food administration.  Once again bringing his ideas of voluntarism and private will to help, he expected self-sacrifice from the American people.  Food will win the war, Hoover claimed, and he was prepared to exercise his authority to save as much food as possible.  Meatless Mondays (and Tuesdays), Wheatless Wednesdays, and Porkless Saturdays encouraged Americans to save.  Propaganda posters with a variety of food oriented slogans pushing for the average Americans to be the saviors of America by simply rationing their basic supplies.  Homeowners were asked to sign pledge cards proving that they were doing what they could to ration food. School children were urged to be patriotic to the core when eating apples and were asked to not leave a scrap of food on their plates. They even sang songs such as the “Patriotic Potato.” Victory gardens were planted in people’s backyards.  Phrases like “Do Not Help the Hun at Mealtime” and “Wheatless Wednesdays in America make sleepless nights in Germany” filled propaganda posters.  The term “hooverize” became synonymous with saving and grew to be a household term.  Hoover was good to his word about voluntarism and refused to collect a salary.  In fact, the only people who received wages in the administration were the clerks.  Because of the voluntary efforts made by the American people and the government requirements that were set, American food production went on the rise and as Hoover wished, helped America win the war.
Essential Question
How do individuals impact global events?
Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the photograph and explain his contribution to the war.
Historical Challenges
How were school children specifically impacted by WWI? What songs were they taught? What slogans were they taught the most? What could kids do to help both at school and at home? Why didn’t Hoover’s ideas of voluntarism and private charity seem to work when he applied these ideas during the Great Depression?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Music: Write the words to a song using a well known tune that could be used to convince people to “hooverize.”