Mary Roberts Rinehart, Queen of the Mystery Novels
Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover shared an interest in mystery novels. Popular mystery writers appear with frequency among the titles in their personal library, especially at Camp Rapidan. One of the first women to excel in the genre was Mary Roberts Rinehart, who was also a personal friend of the Hoovers. Among her many celebrity fans were President Woodrow Wilson and Gertrude Stein.
Long before Agatha Christie, P.D. James, and Patricia Cornwell, Rinehart was America’s premier female writer of the “who done it.” She rose to national fame in 1907 with her novel The Circular Staircase. Her 1920 play The Bat inspired the 1930 movie,The Bat Whispers,which became a source of inspiration for comic book artist Bob Kane in the creation of Batman. In her 1930 mystery novel, The Door, the butler is the killer, establishing the genre cliche, “the butler did it.”
Rinehart, a nurse by profession, took up writing to supplement her family’s income. The mystery novels were the most lucrative source of her writing endeavors but she also served as a regular contributor to popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal. When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, Rinehart served as a war correspondent, covering the conflict. This war correspondent work first introduced her to the Hoovers forming a life-long friendship.
A warm Hoover partisan, Rinehart wrote two favorable articles on the Hoover Administration: “A New First Lady Becomes Hostess For The Nation,” and “What five of our Presidents have told Mary Roberts Rinehart about ‘The Worst Job in the World.’” She reluctantly accepted Hoover’s offer to place her on the Commission on Conservation and Administration of the Public Domain. The reluctance had less to do with the subject matter, issues she felt deeply about, but rather the time commitment that would detract from her writing. After Hoover’s reelection defeat in 1932, Rinehart wrote a letter of consolation claiming “there can be no doubt that this one term of yours will go down in history as a great and outstanding one, and that your policies have set a precedent which will last.” Her comments about FDR were less complimentary, asserting: “Of course putting Roosevelt in just now is like handing the government to a child. He has never thought in national or international terms in his life. And real economy in the face of a hungry horde of Democrats and a clamoring south is probably out of the question.” Hoover’s reply was more magnanimous: “That was a beautiful note you sent me! However, I don’t suppose the national stream of America will be stopped because of anything either one of us does or does not do.”
Among Hoover’s papers is an undated memorandum “Notes on Proposed Mary Robert Rinehart Foundation.” It outlines establishing a monetary award to “develop storytellers.” In fact, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation underwrites an annual “Mary Roberts Rinehart Award” that is presented to a woman writer of a major nonfiction work.
A Most Important Speech
What do you give a friend who has everything?
For the last twenty years of his life, Herbert Hoover lived in suite 31A of the Waldorf Towers in New York. The Waldorf was one of the most exclusive addresses in New York, and Hoover's neighbors included General Douglas MacArthur, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., songwriter Cole Porter, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and his bride Wallis Simpson). Hoover became especially good friends with millionaire businessman and philanthropist Jeremiah Milbank and his wife Katharine. Hoover and the Milbanks often ate together, and after dinner they would play Hoover's favorite card game, Canasta.
For holidays and special events, Hoover would send cards, flowers, and gourmet food to the Milbanks, but it was always challenging to find a special gift for people who had, or could buy, everything they wanted. Mrs. Milbank (who went by the nickname Kitty) showed an interest in Hoover's writings and speeches, so he developed a habit of giving her autographed copies of his books, or the original reading copies of his speeches, often with a brief notation in the margin. Mrs. Milbank later donated all of these gifts to the Hoover Library.
One notable example is the reading copy of the speech he gave at Cairo, Egypt in April, 1946. At that time, Hoover was traveling around the world on a famine survey for President Truman. Hoover traveled 35,000 miles and visited twenty-two countries in fifty-seven days, tallying food shortages and surpluses around the globe. A detailed account of the trip, with accompanying documents, is available on the Truman Library website.
Despite the looming threat of starvation overseas, public opinion in the U.S. was hostile or indifferent to providing food for either our former allies or enemies. On April 19, part way through the survey tour, Hoover and Truman gave a joint broadcast on all four American radio networks, Hoover speaking from Cairo and Truman from Washington. The complete text of Hoover's speech is available on our website.
As Hoover later commented to Kitty in the margin of his speech, "This is one of the most important broadcasts I have ever made." Hoover''s speech, as well as his reports and statements following the survey trip, resulted in the conservation and reallocation of critical food supplies that sustained the devastated parts of Europe and Asia until the following harvest. Truman later thanked Hoover, noting that "without your efforts, and the willing cooperation of all our people who could help in any way in the famine program, the suffering abroad would have been much greater during those dread months last spring and summer when so many nations had exhausted their own food supplies."
Edited with an Introduction by George H. Nash
Nearly seventy years ago, during World War II, Herbert Hoover began writing the first words of what was later to be called his "magnum opus." The "magnum opus" originated as a volume of Hoover's memoirs, a book initially focused on his frustration with President Roosevelt's foreign policies before Pearl Harbor. As time went on, however, Hoover broadened his scope to include Roosevelt's foreign policies during the war, the expansion of the Soviet empire at the war's end, and the beginning of the Cold War. Throughout the work, Hoover raises critical questions, many of which are still under scrutiny today.
Hoover worked on his "magnum opus" for more than twenty years, expanding and revising the manuscript until shortly before his death in 1964. Since then, for nearly half a century, it has remained in storage, unavailable for examination-until now.
Renowned Hoover scholar George H. Nash has sifted through the thousands of pages of notes and documents Hoover left behind, and has edited for publication the final draft of Hoover's "magnum opus." Accompanied by copious footnotes and appendices of key documents, Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath offers many arguments that challenge us to see the history of World War II and the Cold War in a different light. Freedom Betrayed reflects the foreign policy thinking not just of Herbert Hoover but of many American opinion makers during his lifetime and beyond. As such, it is a document with which we should be acquainted today.
Published by the Hoover Institution Press, Freedom Betrayed is available in many fine bookstores, including the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum Gift Shop.