Born this day in 1905: Oveta Culp Hobby (1905–1995), creator and first commander of the WACs and first secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare
Hobby was born Oveta Culp in Killen, Texas. She was a voracious reader, and learned much about law and government at her father’s knee—he was a lawyer and served in the Texas state legislature. She also acquired a spirit of public service from her mother, who often enlisted Oveta’s help with her charitable activities in the community. After high school she studied at Mary Hardin Baylor College for two years and then completed a law degree from the University of Texas in 1925. Between 1925 and 1931 she served as a parliamentarian for the Texas House of Representatives. She held numerous positions, including clerk for the state banking commission. In 1931 she married William Pettis Hobby, a former governor of Texas. The couple had two children.
After her marriage she began working as an editor for the Houston Post, of which her husband was publisher, and became executive vice president by 1938. In 1937 she wrote Mr. Chairman, a book on parliamentary law. She was very civic-minded and was active on many committees. She also served as president of Texas’s League of Women Voters.
Her period of greatest accomplishments began in 1941, when she was tapped to head the Women’s Interest Section of the Bureau of Public Relations in the War Department. Culp created the Women’s Auxiliary Amy Corps (which later became the Women’s Army Corp, or WAC) and commanded it through World War II. She achieved the rank of colonel and received the Distinguished Service Medal.
Hobby returned to publishing and, additionally, broadcasting. She also became active in politics again, serving as a consultant on government efficiency and campaigning for Eisenhower.
|Swearing in as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.|
In 1953 President Eisenhower appointed Hobby as the first secretary of the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, making her the second woman to hold a Cabinet post.
She resigned after two years, when her husband became gravely ill. She tended to him while also returning to the Houston Post, as editor and president. She was chair of the Post from 1965 to 1983. She also served on a host of boards and committees, a few of which included the President's Commission on Employment of the Physically Handicapped, the Board of Directors of the Houston Symphony Society, the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, and the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service. In 1968 she was named director of the newly created Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In addition to the Distinguished Service Medal, Hobby was awarded the George Catlett Marshall Medal from the Association of the United States Army and the Alumni Association Gold Medal for Distinguished Public Service from Rice University. She was the recipient of many honorary degrees, and the Central Texas College named their library in her honor. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996.
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