WHO'S WHO - OVETA CULP HOBBY
Oveta Culp Hobby died over a two decades ago, but her legacy never will. In her 90-year lifetime, Hobby became one of the country’s most beloved and respected political and business leaders, blazing trails for women in arenas overwhelmingly dominated by men—politics, military, and journalism.
Hobby, an instinctive leader and true media baroness, headed a communications conglomerate that included The Houston Post. She became the first commanding officer of the Women’s Army Corps and was the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
Born Oveta Culp on January 19, 1905 in Killeen, Texas. She attended Mary Hardin Baylor College for Women and received her undergraduate degree and her law degree from University of Texas in 1925. Following college she served as parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives. In 1931 she married William P. Hobby, the former Governor of Texas and the publisher of the Houston Post and took a position as research editor at the Post.
She learned the newspaper business, but in 1941, she was called upon to organize and head the Women’s Army Corps (later the Women's Army Corps), which was created to fill gaps left by a shortage of men. The members of the WAC were the first women other than nurses to be in uniform. Hobby achieved the rank of colonel and received the Distinguished Service Medal for efforts during the war. She was the first woman in the Army to receive this award. She would later say she never dreamed she would hold such a title and that she "never did learn to salute properly or master the 30-inch stride."
For four years she fought for women’s rights in the military. She persuaded Congress, among many other things, to increase the number of army positions for women from 54 to 239.
Her son, former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby Jr., said that his mother never set out to accomplish what she did. Rather, she responded with a sense of duty when called upon to serve her state and country.
"She was the first woman to do many things but she never thought of herself that way, " her son said. "She also said a number of times that there was never a problem with her being a woman."
Her work with the Army Corps completed, she then returned to her family and resumed her media career in Houston.
In 1953, Washington called again. This time it was President Eisenhower, who appointed her head of the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare on April 11, 1953, later divided into separate departments of (1) Education and (2) Health and Human Services. This was her second time to organize a new branch of the government. Among her many accomplishments, Hobby made the decision to legalize Jonas Salk's first polio vaccine and supervised its dissemination throughout the states.
Her stint as a cabinet member was short-lived, however. She resigned her post in 1955 to return to Houston and care for her ailing husband. Although she took over control of The Houston Post and the family’s media empire, she rarely left him for more than a few hours until his death. She went on to serve on many boards and advisory positions with various civic and business institutions around the country.
The family’s H&C Communications sold the Post in 1983 but Hobby remained as chairwoman of the company’s executive committee for several years. She headed the company from the Houston apartment where she lived alone until about five years before her death. Her son said that despite all her activities, his mother was a "normal" mom who expected her children to do well in school and behave in church. " She was very kind and loving and also very demanding, " he said.
Perhaps one of the highest compliments ever paid to Hobby came from President Eisenhower as she stepped down from her cabinet post. "None of us will forget your wise counsel, your calm confidence in the face of every kind of difficulty, your concern for people everywhere, the warm heart you brought to your job as well as your talents."
Oveta Culp Hobby died She died of a stroke on August 16, 1995 in Houston, and was buried at Glenwood Cemetery.
Her son, William P. Hobby, Jr., served as lieutenant governor of Texas from 1973 to 1991. Her daughter, Jessica, is married to Henry E. Catto, Jr., the former United States Ambassador to Great Britain. Hobby’s grandson, Paul Hobby, narrowly lost the election for comptroller of Texas in the 1998 general election.