Women’s History Month: Oveta Culp Hobby

Hobby-Oveta-Culp

“Journalist, Business Leader, Public Servant”

 

Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) was one of most recognized women of the 1940s through the 1980s. Born in 1905 in Killeen, Bell County, Texas, by the age of 25 she had earned a law degree and was both the Assistant City Attorney in Houston and the parliamentarian of the  Texas House of Representatives. But that was only the beginning.

Oveta was second of seven children of Isaac William Culp, a lawyer and state legislator, and Emma Elizabeth Hoover Culp. From her mother, Oveta got an inclination for civic duties in the service of others.  From her father, she got an interest in the law.  Before law school, she attended Mary Hardin-Baylor College. She then went to the University of Texas Law School.

In 1931, having lost a bid for a legislative seat, she went back to Houston to concentrate on the law. There she got to know a family friend, William Pettus Hobby, the former Governor of Texas, and then the president and publisher of the Houston Post newspaper. They married  later that year. Governor Hobby, as he was known long after he left office, was literally twice the age of his bride. [The Governor had been married once before, but his wife had died].  Oveta became a research editor at the Post.  She was named executive vice president of the newspaper in 1938.

The Hobbys also owned a radio station, KPRC 950 AM, in Houston.

Both the Governor and Oveta were actively involved in Democratic Party politics at all levels: local, state and national. Both were well-known in political circles.  So Oveta was probably not surprised when the War Department asked her to head up a project to bring women into the Army to perform tasks that would free men for combat.    Oveta responded by saying she would advise on the project, but she did not want any further involvement than that. But Secretary of War Henry Stimson was not taking that for answer.  Thus it was that Oveta found herself in Washington, DC, as the director of the Women’s Interest Section in the War Department, for an annual salary of $1.00.

The Women’s Interest section was not about bring women into the Army. Instead it was a section of the War Department’ Bureau of Public Relations.  It did address issues of interest to women generally.  Meanwhile, the plans for women in uniform went forward, with Oveta commenting on them.  In the spring of 1942, the War Department was ready to unveil the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC)(later, Women’s Army Corps (WAC)).   Oveta, being no doubt the most knowledgeable woman in the Department was named director of the WAAC. She was given an officer’s commission as a major, and later was promoted to colonel.   She commanded a corps of about 100,000 women throughout the war.

Only one unit of WACs were deployed overseas, that being the all-black 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.  Nonetheless, Army commanders were pleased by the performance of all of the women.  That helped keep the WAC as part of the Army after the war.

Below: Col. Oveta Culp Hobby

oveta-culp-hobby-WAC

At war’s end, Col. Hobby resigned from the Army to return to the publishing business.  Governor Hobby had acquired a television station and a radio station, which all operated under the  corporate umbrella of the  Houston Post Company.  The Governor was chairman of the board and Oveta was president of the company.

The Hobbys turned their interests to Republican politics. They were enthusiastic supporters of Dwight Eisenhower for  President.  Not long after Eisenhower was elected, he  appointed Oveta Culp Hobby as director of the Federal Security Agency.  That organization dealt with economic security.  It was renamed the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) and elevated to Cabinet status. Oveta Hobby was the first secretary of HEW (now the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services). She served in that post for two years, before once again returning to Houston. She later became publisher of the Post.

Hobby-Oveta-CulpSecretary of Health, Education and Welfare Oveta Culp Hobby

Oveta Culp Hobby is an iconic figure in women’s history.   Her contributions were all across the spectrum of American life.  In addition to having been the first commander of women in the Army,  and the first Secretary of HEW she is also remembered for:

  • service on the boards of 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, the American Assembly, Rice University, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • as a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information and the Press in Geneva, Switzerland in 1948.
  • service as  president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in 1949.
  • service on the  boards aand committees of the Advisory Committee for Economic Development, the Continental Oil Company Scholarship Award Committee, the National Advisory Board of the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Committee of 75 at the University of Texas, the board of the Eisenhower Birthplace Memorial Park, the President’s Commission on Employment of the Physically Handicapped, the President’s Commission on Civilian National Honors, the Committee for the White House Conference on Education, the board of the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships, the Southern Regional Committee for Marshall Scholarships, the Board of Directors of the Houston Symphony Society, the Southwest Advisory Board of the Institute of International Education, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Special Studies Project, the Crusade for Freedom, the Visiting Committee of the Graduate School for Education of Harvard University, the advisory board of the George C. Marshall Research Foundation, and the boards of the Society for Rehabilitation of the Facially Disfigured, the Texas Heart Association, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas,  Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, a member of the Junior League,  the Houston Symphony Orchestra Committee, the General Foods Corporation, the General Aniline and Film Corporation, and the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television,  the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service, and the Houston  Business Committee for the Arts.

She served eighteen years as Chairman of the Board of the Houston Post Company. With all of her active  interests swirling about her, she had two children, William Pettus Hobby, Jr., and Jessica Hobby Catto.   William junior served eighteen years as lieutenant governor of Texas, a tenure without precedence or repetition. He was also the Chancellor of the University of Houston System .  Jessica was a well-known newspaper columnist and author concentrating on environmental issues.

Oveta Culp Hobby died on August 16, 1995, at the age of 90.

OCH-stampStamp Honoring Oveta Culp Hobby issued April  2011.

 

Craig


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