Herbert Hoover grew up in a religious community that valued peace, simplicity, integrity, and service to others. The plainly furnished Friends Meetinghouse, built by the Society of Friends, or Quakers, in 1857, is the physical expression of those values. Now two blocks from its original location, the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Foundation relocated and restored this meetinghouse in 1964.
Quakers held two meetings for worship each week. Men sat to the right of the partition, women to the left. The Quakers did not have a paid minister. They did not use music, symbols, or sacraments in their worship. Instead, they practiced "silent waiting," or worshipping in silence as they sat on the rows of long wooden benches.
President Hoover described the meetings:
If moved by the "inward light", a man or woman could stand and share their insights or prayers. Those known for their inspired messages, like Herbert's mother Hulda, became "recorded ministers" and sat on the facing benches with the elders.
Equality Before God
The Quakers strongly believed all people were equal before God. During monthly business meetings the partitions were closed, allowing women a chance at leadership independent of men. Hulda, active in the West Branch meeting, helped conduct revivals, founded and led a young people's prayer meeting, and took an active role in temperance campaigns that aimed to discourage alcohol consumption.
Career Of Conscience
Like his mother, Herbert Hoover, learned to put his beliefs into practice, as he demonstrated during decades of leadership.. The Quakers' stress on the equal worth of all persons is evident in Hoover's global humanitarian work, his dedication to public service, and his faith in the opportunities afforded by American life.
From The Friends Church To The Historic Site
An evangelical revival in 1877 led to a split in the West Branch meeting. Though distressed by the rift in the community, Hulda was among the progressives who advocated changes in the meeting. By 1894, the remaining members had renovated the meetinghouse in the plan of a church, removed the partitions, and added an organ and a belfry. They also hired a pastor and constructed a parsonage on site. Silent waiting remained a part of the worship.
In 1915, the crowded meetinghouse building was sold and moved to the east side of Downey Street to make room for a new Friends Church. The new owner remodeled it as the Pastime Theater, where moviegoers could see popular films for five to ten cents. In the 1930’s new owners converted the theater into an auto garage.
West Branch citizens working to restore the Hoover birthplace and create a commemorative park considered using the old Meetinghouse as a Hoover museum. The Hoover Birthplace Foundation purchased the meetinghouse and moved it to its present place in 1964.
Mothers brought restless or hungry infants to the cry room or nursery, to avoid disturbing the silent Quaker meetings. The cry room in the Friends Meetinghouse at Herbert Hoover is not original to the building. It came from another meetinghouse, added as part of the restoration.