Lou Henry Hoover, who would become First Lady to President Herbert Hoover in 1929, was only 26 when this cannon, among others, began shelling her. She and her new husband were trapped on the other side of the world, in the Chinese city of Tianjin in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion. There as an engineer, Herbert helped design makeshift defenses. Lou Hoover, on the other hand, tucked her revolver into her waistband, hopped on her bicycle and rode to the front lines.
As a girl, Lou Henry was a passionate athlete, hunter and outdoorswoman. She was the first geology major in the U.S., and met Herbert Hoover in that same program at Stanford. They married quickly after graduation, and Lou excitedly followed Herbert on his first job, working for American mining concerns in China, in 1899.
China’s Qing dynasty was in sharp decline by the turn of the 20th Century. After losing both opium wars, colonial powers and western interests had been freely exploiting the resources of China for decades. Resentment over foreign influence eventually reached a boiling point among the working classes. A peasant army, the “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” (a.k.a. “Boxers”) eventually rose up to expunge China of outsiders.
The Siege of Tianjin began on the 15th of June, 1900, and lasted for almost exactly a month before the “Eight Nation Alliance” of Japan, the U.S. and European powers would relieve the 700 or so foreign civilians isolated in the city’s walls. During that time, Lou Hoover pitched in where she could, building barricades, tending to the wounded and posting up as a guard. She got around the city on her bicycle unharmed, though a stray bullet did pop her front tire at one point.
For her part, the daring Lou Hoover was unfazed, and may even have enjoyed the battle. As she wrote to a friend a few weeks later, “[Y]ou missed one of the opportunities of your life… you should have been here, at the most interesting siege and bombardment of the age.”
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