Two Homes Designed by Women–A President’s Wife and My Mother

Palo Alto, California

The Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover House, a National Historic Landmark, is a large, rambling International style house, resembling “blocks piled up.” It was designed by Lou Henry Hoover, wife of Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States. Herbert Hoover’s contribution was to order that the home be fireproof, and the walls were constructed of hollow tiles. Built from 1919 to 1920, the house was the couple’s first and only permanent residence.

It was here that Hoover awaited the Presidential election returns in 1928, when he won against Alfred E. Smith, and 1932, when he lost the election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After Lou’s death in 1944, her husband deeded the house to Stanford University to serve as a home for university professors.

Herbert Hoover, born in West Branch, Iowa in 1874, was a member of the first class of Leland Stanford, Jr. University. Opened in 1891 by former California Governor Leland Stanford and his wife in memory of their son, the University was located in Palo Alto, California, 30 miles south of San Francisco. Studying geology, Hoover met fellow student Lou Henry in a geology lab. Lou Henry, also born in Iowa in 1874, had moved to Monterey, California, with her family in 1884. She entered Stanford University in 1894.

Old Creamery Road, Dexter, Iowa

My mother designed the house that replaced the original one on the farm, along Old Creamery Road.

Mom’s plan for the front turned out the way she wanted it. She described landscaping as well.

On another sheet of graph paper, Mom had plotted the area south of the house that includes a shed. Dad added electrical lines, which run from the shed to the house and to a grain-drying bin, and also the pipe from the farm well to the house. He used Mom’s specs and measurements for the new house. Because Dad was also a farmer, planting and harvesting came first. We rented a house three miles away. It had running water but no indoor bathroom. Yes, an outhouse.

We moved there when I was a senior in high school, so I mostly escaped the outhouse for the next couple of years. It took that long for Dad and Uncle Bill to build the house.

The living area is basically square, with only two bedrooms, both with plenty of closet space. Another space included a couch which could be used by a guest, usually Grandma Leora. It has a bath and a half, with a large linen closet in the hallway. I’ve heard that adults tend to collect what they lacked as children. Mom loved having enough beautiful sheets and colorful towels, what she longed for during the Great Depression. She enjoyed giving linens as gifts, even for her own mother (Leora).

As amazing as it was for Lou Henry Hoover to design her own house, I’m even more surprised that Mom’s plans became her little green farm home.

Uncle Bill Neal wired the house. He told Dad he thought there were twice too many electrical outlets. Mom stood her ground and she was right to insist on so many!

Here’s the story about my beloved but rickety farm house Dad had to tear down to build Mom’s dream home.


  1. I read both stories, Joy, and enjoyed both. Almost 35 years ago, I used graph paper and a ruler to draw the plans for our house. My plans looked very much like your mothers plans. Thanks for sharing your memories and bringing back mine. Have a wonderful week ahead!

    • Oh, thanks for your memories! Uncle Bill did the wiring for the little green house. He told Dad that he thought there were twice too many plugins. Mom stood her ground and she was right to insist on so many!

  2. Nice. Although, it’s impressive, I’d get lost in the “Hoover” house. And I’d much rather pay the utilities on the house your mother designed. 😃

    • Great Grandma’s things went to her oldest daughter (my Grandma Leora). Grandma’s ended up with her oldest daughter (Mom). So they all ended up with me, also the oldest daughter. (lump in throat)

  3. If I remember correctly, your dad had remodeled the kitchen in the old farmhouse. So leave the kitchen intact, demo the rest of the old house, and build the new house around the kitchen.

  4. I love this story about the house! It is true that people collect things they love as they age. It is sweet that your mother also gave her favorite things to others! 🙂 (I like the bright flowers in the garden.)

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