Open Access Thesis
This thesis examines the development of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, and the town of West Branch's memorialization of Herbert Hoover. The memorialization process of Herbert Hoover's life began with the purchase of his childhood home by his wife, Lou Henry, and son, Allan Hoover in 1935. Backed by the town of West Branch, where the birth site was located, the memorial consisted of the home that Hoover lived in as a child. The Birthplace Society, comprised of leading West Branch community members, expanded the grounds and restored Hoover's father's blacksmith shop in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. In 1957, unhappy with his relationship with the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, Hoover proposed that a small library be built to house some of his presidential memorabilia in West Branch on the same grounds. Dedicated in 1962, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum became the fourth institution in the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) presidential library system. Then in 1965, the grounds, blacksmith's shop, and birthplace cottage were added to the National Register of Historic Places administered by the National Park Service (NPS). The belated construction of the presidential library, its combination with the birthplace and grounds, and its connection to the community creates a portrayal of Hoover that is different from other presidents in other presidential libraries.
The national archives and park service interpreted Hoover’s life differently. Although Hoover’s national legacy remained tied to the Great Depression, both NARA and NPS sought to distance Hoover from his failures and focused their story on his successful humanitarian efforts. The NPS told of Hoover’s childhood years in Iowa, and credited his humble, small-town upbringing for his later successes. That narrative had been crafted by the Birthplace Society in West Branch and adopted by the NPS. Community leaders in West Branch used their connection to Hoover to put their small Iowa town on the map in a significant way. Hoover gave West Branch the opportunity to create a history that would set them apart from other towns in Iowa. West Branch’s interpretation of Hoover’s childhood spoke as much about their view of him as it did about the way in which they wanted outsiders to view their community. Rather than contradicting this more sympathetic narrative, the national archives and parks service built upon it to emphasize Hoover's accomplishments beyond his presidency. As a result, the memorialization of Hoover in his hometown does not mirror his standing in public memory, but promotes the former president's ideas about conservatism and individualism and West Branch's small-town identity.
Date of Award
Master of Arts
Department of History
1 PDF file (iv, 137 pages)
©2017 - Ryan Lucas Wurtz
Wurtz, Ryan Lucas, "Constructing identities in the West Branch landscape: Herbert Hoover's life and legacy as a common man, 1935-1992" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 435.