From WWII to a Pandemic: Hoover’s Bill of Rights for Boys (and Girls)
Updated: Jan 14
We came across this fascinating piece, titled Enchanted World by Hoover Heads, about an article President Herbert Hoover wrote on being a boy in America during WWII. Historian and Hoover Presidential Library archivist, Matthew Schaefer, applies our 31st president’s thoughts from the early 20th century to the circumstance we find ourselves in today -- from those grim days of World War II to these grim days of world wide pandemic.
We deeply appreciate President Hoover’s words specifically in the context of boys during WWII. Boys did not have much choice than to fill the shoes of their fathers and older brothers who went off to fight. And given the backdrop of his own orphaned childhood, we can only imagine that his own lost boyhood experience added a personal element to his writing. Hoover’s words are also refreshing to read given today’s cultural trend which often ignores or admonishes characteristics typically unique to boys and boyhood. As ethics philosopher and American Enterprise Institute scholar, Christine Hoff Sommers, explains here, “It’s a bad time to be a boy in America. . . That boys are in disrepute is not accidental.” She elaborates in her book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men.
As Hoover’s thoughts -- below -- are digested in today’s context, his message is for both boys and girls who are befuddled at best and tragically frustrated at worst by the current COVID pandemic. We encourage every parent, aunt, uncle, godparent, and grandparent to take a look below, click through to the full read, and apply as you see fit. May we honor such a “Bill of Rights for Kids,” including (as Hoover puts it) a right to the pursuit of happiness, the kind of play that will stretch their imaginations, tax their ingenuity, sharpen their wits, challenge their prowess, and keep their self-starters going:
“There are two jobs for American boys today. One is being a boy. The other is growing up to be man. Both jobs are important. Both are packed with excitement, great undertakings, and high adventure.
Sometimes a boy’s elders seriously interfere with his sheer joy in being a boy. They fill the department of growing up to be a man with grief and trouble. They create daily problems about everything: about health, about being made to eat food that is “good for you,” washing around neck and ears, keeping neat, with special unreasonableness about rusty jackknives and prized collections of snakes and toads.
There is a constant checkup to make sure that a boy’s every waking activity is a constructive joy, not destructive glee. There is moral and spiritual instruction. And there is going to school. There are many disciplines, directions, urgings and pleadings from elders that no boy understands until he has become a man himself. But then he looks backward to the enchanted boy’s world in which he once lived so splendidly. And he finds its memory one of his most precious personal possessions.”
President Hoover closed with this:
“Since one of the saddest things in the world is that boys must grow up into the land of realities, I think there should be a special Bill of Rights for boys, as boys: Like everyone else, a boy has a right to the pursuit of happiness.
He has the right to the kind of play that will stretch his imagination, tax his ingenuity, sharpen his wits, challenge his prowess and keep his self-starter going.
He has the right to the satisfaction of that thirst to explore the world around him, every bit of which is new to him, and to explore the land of make-believe at will. He has the right to affection and friendship.
He has the right to the sense of security in belonging to some group. He is by nature gregarious, and the cultivation of that instinct will bring him many joys and helps in life. He has the right to health protections that will make him an inch taller than his dad.
He has the right to education and training that will fit him into a job he likes when he becomes a man. These are the rights of boys and it’s up to us, as adults, to see that they have them. The glory of the nation rests in the character of her men. And character comes from boyhood. Thus every boy is a challenge to his elders. It is for them that we must win the war – it is for them that we must make a just and lasting peace. For the world of tomorrow, about which all of us are dreaming and planning, will be carried forward by the boys of today.”
In tying Hoover’s words then with the times we live in now, Matthew concludes with this:
“We are now living in the world of tomorrow. Once again the situation is grim. This time rather than war, we are facing disease. Once again the challenge to the elders is to win the war, this time against disease. We must face this challenge, so that the children of today can remain in their enchanted world.”