Herbert Hoover: Character Traits & Humanitarian Work

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will explore the character traits of President Herbert Hoover. We will identify aspects of his personality, and we will also highlight his career in humanitarian work.

Presidents and Their Personalities

One of the most overlooked but interesting aspects of history is the personalities of U.S. Presidents. A lot of times we know facts about presidents. We know what they did, but how much do we really know about who they were? For example, what was John Adams' personality like? Was he warm and bubbly? Shy? Cold and aloof? We often tend to have a better understanding of the personalities of recent presidents because their legacy is fresher in our memory. For example, many of you may have a general idea of what Ronald Reagan's personality was like. You may know that he was known for his sense of humor, and you may be able to identify other character traits as well.

In this lesson we will be exploring the personality and character traits of Republican President Herbert Hoover, who served between 1929-1933 and who was president when the Great Depression began. We will also explore his humanitarian work. Rather than focus mainly on key terms and events, we want to paint of picture of who Hoover was. Let's dig in!

Herbert Hoover: Personality and Character Traits

So what was Herbert Hoover's personality like? He was incredibly ambitious and dedicated to tasks at hand. As a young man, Hoover worked in the mining industry and achieved wealth and power through his hard work and determination. Hoover was the embodiment of the idea of the self-made man, meaning his success in life was due solely to his work ethic and perseverance. Born into a poor Quaker family in Iowa and orphaned as a child, Hoover made himself into a success. In fact, by the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he was a multimillionaire.

Herbert Hoover was an incredibly ambitious and hard-working man, although he has often been described as aloof.

Hoover became a man during the peak of the Second Industrial Revolution, which took place between the end of the Civil War and the outbreak of World War I. During this time, profound industrial advances were made, particularly in the areas of machine tooling and steel production. This was a time when tremendous wealth could be earned by those willing to put in the effort. Growing up in this context, Hoover came to believe that he was owed nothing, and that it was not the government's responsibility to provide for his well-being. This belief in rugged individualism fueled Hoover's self-reliance and work ethic.

Hoover has typically been described as confident and self-assured, but also cool and aloof. He was not warm in social situations, but generally tended to be to the point and short. He was also known to be stubborn, even self-righteous. He was a man who held his ground regardless of what others thought. According to some historians, he was sensitive to criticism and tended to maintain that he was right even when evidence suggested otherwise. Many historians argue he was an ideologue, rather than a pragmatist. An ideologue is someone who is firmly committed to an ideology or philosophy and generally unwilling to compromise, while a pragmatist is someone who is less committed to an ideology and more concerned with what is practical or do-able. Historian point out the fact that after the Stock Market Crash in 1929, Hoover stubbornly maintained that the crisis could be resolved without intervention from the federal government. However, it is worth recognizing that during the end of his term, Hoover did enroll the help of the federal government.

Herbert Hoover: The Humanitarian

It is easy for us to think of President Hoover as a bitter, hard, cold man who cared little for others. However, we also need to recognize that Hoover was a tremendous humanitarian. He cared deeply about the wellbeing of others. Before he became president, Hoover was a well-known philanthropist. One historian described Hoover's blend of conservative economics and humanitarianism: Hoover, he said ''developed a unique philosophy--one balancing responsibility for the welfare of others with an unshakable faith in free enterprise and dynamic individualism.''

Hoover headed the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Some of the members are seen here in this photo.

Hoover's humanitarian work began during World War I. After being invaded by Germany, the country of Belgium experienced tremendous suffering. Hoover became the chairman of an organization called the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). In this position, Hoover oversaw the distribution of food, supplies, and other forms of relief on a massive scale. It is believed the CRB fed some two million Europeans. The relief organization had its own navy and railroad system and in many ways was almost like a shadow government, except that its sole purpose was to provide economic relief to war-torn Belgium.

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