Oveta Culp Hobby

Ovetta Culpa HobbyOn this date in 1905 Oveta Culp Hobby was born in Kileen, Texas. It did not take long before she followed her father’s footsteps in her love for the law and the intricate workings of government.

Having tagged along on many of her father’s trips in his work as a legislator, in 1925, at the age of twenty, she was asked by the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to act as legislative parliamentarian and served there until 1931. At the same time, she became a clerk of the State Banking Commission and codified the banking laws of the state of Texas, all while attending the University of Texas.

Upon graduation, Culp worked on a Houston mayoral campaign, after which the new mayor offered her a post as assistant to the city attorney. Having known the former governor, William Pettus Hobby through her father, while she served at the assistant to the city attorney, they rekindled their friendship and on February 23, 1931, Culp at the age of twenty-six and Hobby at the age of fifty-three were married.

In June of 1941, while in Washington on Federal Communications Commission business, she received a call from General David Searles, who asked if she would draw up an organizational chart with recommendations on ways women could serve. As a result, Mrs. Hobby became the head of the Women’s Interest Section, War Department Bureau of Public Relations.

As America became fully involved in the war, General Marshall asked Hobby to be the leader of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). The acceptance of this request made her the first Female officer in the Army. However, because Congress had been unwilling to make the women’s corps an integral part of the army, the women in the War Department found themselves in limbo and had to fight for everything from barracks, to uniforms, to attendance at movie nights.

The WAACs, which were an all volunteer corps, proved themselves quickly, and it soon became evident that one WAAC could often do the work of two men. When the corps was first organized, Congress had reluctantly agreed that maybe the women would be suited for 54 army jobs. By the time Colonel Hobby was through, these women filled 239 types of jobs. Because of her hard work and commitment, in January 1945 she received the Distinguished Service Medal for outstanding service.

Having faced discrimination throughout her service, she became an avid believer that all members within the military should be treated equally. Not long after the war, when she was co-chairman of the celebration of Armed Forces Day, the other chairman came to her office with plans for a big military dinner. “Fine,” she agreed, “if we understand each other. No celebration of Armed Forces Day will be held in Houston which is not open to everyone who has served in our armed forces-regardless of race.” Following along a similar belief, later her and her husband using the Huston Post as a platform would be a leader in the desegregation of schools.

With the war over, Mrs. Hobby would continue to serve in the public sector. From 1946-47, she served on the boards of the Advertising Federation of America, the American Design Award Committee, the American National Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Citizens Committee for the Hoover Report, and the American Assembly. In 1948 she was a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information and Press in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1949 she was president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. Her and her husband had done so much in just a few years that in 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Hobby were honored for distinguished service to the advancement of human relations by the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Upon Dwight Eisenhower’s emergence as the Republican candidate, Mrs. Hobby immediately became active on his behalf. After his inauguration, Eisenhower appointed her chairman of the Federal Security Agency-a non-cabinet post-but invited her to sit in on cabinet meetings. On April 11, 1953, she became the first secretary of the new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where once again she had to organize a new branch of the federal government. During her thirty-one months as secretary, the department developed educational programs to ensure available schooling for the baby-boom children, improved the administration of food and drug laws, expanded the rehabilitation program, and designed a hospital insurance program to protect Americans against the rising cost of illness.

In 1955 she left her position to be with her ailing husband and in 1956 became chairman of the board of directors of the newly organized Bank of Texas and the first woman in its 113-year history to be a member of Mutual of New York’s board of trustees.

Mrs. Hobby spent the rest of her years serving on numerous boards and committees. In addition, she received honorary degrees from over ten universities and colleges. However, one of the honors that meant the most to her was the naming of the library at Central Texas College in her hometown of Killeen in her honor that was dedicated by President Johnson.

Finally, in 1984 Mrs. Hobby was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. On August 16, 1995, Oveta Culp Hobby died in Houston, and was buried at Glenwood Cemetery.

-V. Jones

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