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Hobby, Oveta Culp

Oveta Culp Hobby

Born January 19, 1905

Killeen, Texas

Died August 16, 1995

Houston, Texas

Director of the Women's Army Corps

Oveta Culp Hobby was an attorney and a journalist who became director of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). On July 1, 1943, WAAC was given full military status, making it part of the U.S. Army. The unit was renamed Women's Army Corps (WAC) and Hobby became the first female commanding officer in the U.S. Army. She was commissioned a WAC colonel in 1943 and remained as director until July 1945. In January of that year, Hobby received the military's Distinguished Service Medal for outstanding service to her country during World War II (193945).

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969; served 195361) called Hobby back to Washington, D.C., in 1953. Eisenhower appointed her as administrator of the Federal Security Agency. Later that year her appointment was elevated to a presidential cabinet position. Hobby became the first secretary of the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) and was the only woman in the Cabinet. Only the second female Cabinet member in American history (the first was Frances Perkins, who served as secretary of labor from 1933 to 1945 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt [18821945; served 193345; see entry]), Hobby remained in her position at HEW until her return to the Houston Post newspaper in 1955. She would eventually chair the newspaper's board.

In the beginning

Oveta Culp was born on January 19, 1905, the second of seven children born to Emma Elizabeth Hoover and Ike W. Culp in Killeen, Texas. She learned her love for the law and the workings of government from her father, who was an attorney and state legislator. From her mother, Oveta learned the importance of community service at an early age. She received her education at the Mary Hardin Baylor College for Women in Texas and from the University of Texas Law School, where she earned her degree in 1925.

After graduation, Oveta served as parliamentarian (expert in legislative rules and procedures) for the Texas House of Representatives until 1931. She accepted a post as assistant to the city attorney of Houston, Texas. There she resumed her friendship with a longtime family friend, William Pettus Hobby (18781964).

On February 23, 1931, Oveta Culp married William Hobby, former governor of Texas and the publisher of the Houston Post. Oveta was twenty-six while William was fifty-three. The couple had two children. During their early years of marriage, Oveta began working on a book based on her experiences in the legislature. The title was Mr. Chairman and, upon publication in 1936, it immediately won acceptance as a handbook on parliamentary law. The Hobbys bought the Post newspaper and worked together to pay off the large debt. Oveta learned about publishing and was employed as book editor, assistant editor, and executive vice president. She would eventually become president, editor, and ultimately chairman of the board. She helped run the family-owned business that had expanded to include broadcasting by the early 1940s.

World War II

In 1941 Oveta Culp Hobby was in Washington, D.C., on Federal Communications Commission business. While there, she was asked to head the women's division of the War Department's Bureau of Public Relations. On September 15, 1940, Congress had voted for a compulsory military service and the United States had its first peacetime draft. The War Department was now receiving up to ten thousand letters a day from women, many asking what they could do to serve their country. Hobby was directed to draw up an organizational chart with recommendations on ways women could serve.

Women's Army Corps

With the surprise Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the manpower needs of the U.S. military increased dramatically. The United States was going to fight in both Europe and the Pacific. Some military leaders believed women should take over some of the soldiers' duties on the home front to free the men for combat roles. The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formed in May 1942 so that women could serve as typists, file clerks, telephone switchboard operators, bookkeepers, cooks and bakers, radio operators, and drivers of military vehicles, among many other activities. Enrollment was open to women between the ages of twenty-one and forty-four. Some thirty-five thousand women applied for the 440 positions in the first WAAC class to begin officers' training in July 1942. The corps was not considered a part of the regular army until July 1943, when it was converted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC). By then, women had gained greater acceptance and the demand for their services in the military was expanding to include overseas roles. By the end of the war in Europe in June 1945, some 150,000 women had served. While most served on the home front, some 7,600 WACs served in Europe and 5,500 had been stationed in the Southwest Pacific. Another 400 were sent to the China-Burma-India theater. Medals and citations for outstanding military service were presented to 657 WACs. Given their valuable contributions to the war effort, Congress made the WACs a permanent part of the U.S. Army on June 12, 1948.

Hobby traveled to Europe to study the British and French women's armies for their strengths and weaknesses, while preparing a plan for the United States. She was heading home to Houston, by way of Chicago, Illinois, where she had a speaking engagement, when the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, occurred on December 7, 1941.

Hobby immediately returned to Washington, where she met with Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson (18671950; see entry). He assigned her the task of finding out which regular jobs in the army women could do that would require very little special training. General George C. Marshall (18801959) asked her to testify to Congress on the plan for a women's army, and she herself was asked to command that army. When the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was created on May 14, 1942, Hobby was appointed director with the rank of colonel. Director Hobby found she was traveling constantly in order to speak to large groups of Americans on the radical subject of enlisting volunteer women into the army. The nation was not necessarily ready for this new direction.

Congress had stopped short of making the women's corps an integral part of the army, so the department soon found itself without much power. Because commanding officers were not comfortable with the thought of women soldiers, women were placed in separate units from men. Obstacles to women in the service were everywhere. For example, army engineers insisted that they would work only for the regular army, and so Hobby and her WAAC staff found themselves forced to draw their own barracks' plans. In addition, the comptroller general's office decreed it could not pay the women physicians of the WAAC because they were authorized only to pay persons in military service. Stimson had to ask Congress for a special act to enable Hobby to pay WAAC physicians. But the war, and particularly the attack on Pearl Harbor, forced a change in American thinking. The growing manpower shortage on the home front caused industry to encourage female worker participation in every part of the war effort. The United States needed these women in order to win the war. On all fronts women had proven themselves capable.

In October 1942, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962; see entry) and Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, as commander of the WAAC, traveled to England to learn about women in the British military. They made a point of visiting the American women pilots who had recently arrived in Europe to fly for the British Royal Air Force. For years the U.S. government had been debating what to do with the organization of women in the service. The question always seemed to focus on the advantages and disadvantages of placing them

actually in the military and America's readiness to accept women into combat. Several plans included combining the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and later the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) under the leadership of Colonel Hobby at WAAC headquarters. Hobby heartily approved of commissioning women pilots into her organization. The subject was hotly debated on many levels, and the combined women's pilot groups eventually became the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Congress disbanded them before a final decision was ever made about their organization.

The WAAC was made a part of the regular army on July 1, 1943, and renamed Women's Army Corps (WAC). When the corps first organized, Congress hesitantly agreed that women could perform perhaps fifty-four army jobs. By the time Hobby had completed her command in 1945, women filled two hundred and thirty-nine types of jobs. Under her direction, the WAC grew to a maximum strength of about one hundred thousand during the war. In January 1945 Hobby became the first woman to receive the military's Distinguished Service Medal for outstanding service to her country during World War II. Laying aside her colonel's uniform, Hobby returned to Texas to resume her career in journalism.

Back to Washington

President Eisenhower called Hobby back to Washington, D.C., in 1953. Once again she was asked by her nation to organize a new branch of the federal government. Hobby was the first secretary of the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), and she was the only woman in the Cabinet. It was a massive and complex department held together by the common thread of family service.

Hobby resigned from her position at HEW in 1955 and returned to Houston to care for her ailing husband. She was the postwar publisher of the Houston Post and became chairman of the board of directors of the newly organized Bank of Texas. Always active in Texas Republican politics, Hobby was appointed to the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service by Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson (19081973; served 196369). In 1966 she flew to Vietnam as a member of the HEW Vietnam Health Education Task Force to evaluate the situation. Hobby held many honors in her lifetime, but the most meaningful to her was the naming of the library in her hometown of Killeen, Texas. President Johnson was present to dedicate the library at Central Texas College in Hobby's honor. Oveta Culp Hobby was named to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1984. She died in Houston on August 16, 1995.

For More Information


Cott, Nancy F., ed. No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Keil, Sally Van Wagenen. Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines. New York: Four Directions Press, 1979.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts: Breakthrough Achievements of Almost One Thousand American Women. New York: Random House, 1992.

Verges, Marianne. On Silver Wings. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.

Web sites

"Oveta Culp Hobby." Cabinet Officials. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Oveta Culp Hobby." The Texas State Historical Association. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

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Oveta Culp Hobby

Oveta Culp Hobby

American government official and businesswoman Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) held pioneering roles as the first head of both the Women's Army Corps (WACs) and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). In her leadership of the WACs, Hobby fought for the equal treatment of female soldiers, insisting that they be subject to the same rules and training as men and receive similar responsibilities. She received a number of honors for her life of public service, including the Distinguished Service Award and the George Catlett Marshall Medal for Public Service.

Oveta Culp Hobby was one of the most prominent women in American government in the 1940s and 1950s. During World War II, she became the original director of the Women's Army Corps, providing guidance in the creation of the first military group for women in the United States. In the 1950s, she was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as secretary of the newly formed cabinet department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She was only the second woman in history to hold a U.S. cabinet post. After leaving government work, Hobby returned to a successful business career in which she headed a media corporation that included a newspaper and television stations. Throughout her career, Hobby was known for upholding her ideals on social issues while weathering difficulties with composure, dignity, and style. Her policies and example helped to win increased acceptance and respect for other women pursuing careers in the military, government, and business.

Hobby was born into a political family in Killeen, Texas, on January 19, 1905. Her father, Isaac William Culp, was a lawyer and state politician, and her mother, Emma Hoover Culp, was active in the women's suffrage movement. Hobby attended public schools in Killeen and received instruction from private tutors. Her education was also supplemented by her own enthusiastic reading on a variety of topics. The family interest in government and politics was inherited by Hobby, who was drawn to the subject even more after her father was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1919. During his first term in office, Hobby attended a year of classes at the Mary Hardin-Baylor College in Belton, Texas. With her father's reelection in 1921, Hobby moved to Austin with her father, beginning her own law studies by auditing courses at the University of Texas.

Advanced in Newspaper Career

Hobby became an expert on parliamentary procedure, and at the age of 20, began a lengthy term as parliamentarian for the state House of Representatives. She held the post from 1925 to 1931 and returned to the job from 1939 to 1941. She published a book on the subject in 1937 under the title Mr. Chairman. In 1929 she ran for a House seat herself, but was defeated by a Ku Klux Klan-supported candidate who accused her of being a "parliamentarian." This foray into the world of campaigning and elections did not suit Hobby; she never again ran for an elective post. Following her defeat, she changed the focus of her career and took a job in the circulation department of the Houston Post.

The president of the Houston Post was William Pettus Hobby, a friend of Hobby's father and a former governor of Texas. When Hobby met him, she was in her mid-20s and the businessman, in his 50s, had just suffered the death of his first wife. The two began a courtship that resulted in their marriage on February 23, 1931. Hobby continued working at the Post, beginning a syndicated column devoted to issues of parliamentary procedure. Over the coming years she took on increasing responsibility at the paper, advancing from research editor in 1931 to assistant editor in 1936 and executive vice president in 1938. She and her husband eventually purchased the newspaper and Hobby assumed the top management role, simultaneously serving as executive director of the radio station KPRC in Houston. During the 1930s the Hobbys also had two children, William Pettus Hobby Jr. in 1932 and Jessica Oveta Hobby in 1937.

Led Formation of WACs

Hobby returned to government activities in the summer of 1941 when she took an unpaid post as head of the recently formed women's division of the War Department Bureau of Public Relations. With the start of American involvement in World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that December, she was approached by General George C. Marshall to help draw up plans for a women's branch of the Army. Shortly after the creation of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs) on May 12, 1942, Hobby was named its first director, receiving the military rank of colonel. In 1943, the force received full status in the army and its name was changed to the Women's Army Corps (WACs).

The new women's military force provided several challenges for Hobby. Her first task was to raise the required number of 12, 200 volunteers and to recruit officer candidates. Having gathered an army, she then had to establish a role for it within the context of the male armed forces. Fighting the opinion that women should or could not endure the same regimen as men, Hobby insisted that her soldiers receive the standard Army training and be held to the same military traditions and discipline. She based her policies on research as well as her own opinions; in one instance she traveled to Great Britain with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to study how women there participated in the war. Hobby struggled to win equal treatment for the WACs, defending her women even on the thorny issue of illegitimate pregnancy while in the service. Army officials stated that under such conditions, women should receive a dishonorable discharge and lose all pay and rights. But Hobby countered that such a policy would be an unfair double standard—male soldiers who had affairs resulting in pregnancy did not receive such treatment. The Army conceded her point and allowed pregnant soldiers to leave the forces with an honorable discharge.

Fought Prejudice against Female Soldiers

Not only did Hobby have to labor to win women assignments with Army commanders and resentful enlisted men, she played an important role in creating a positive image for the WACs. Rumors alleging that the ranks of female soldiers were filled with women of loose sexual morals and lesbians threatened to damage public support of the WACs as well as morale in the troops. As the top representative of the WACs, Hobby helped to diminish these ideas by her own example as an intelligent, dignified woman with a distinctive feminine style. Her traditionally elegant fashion sense, in fact, was one of her hallmarks; she frequently appeared at public occasions wearing white gloves and a hat. The billed cap that she wore while head of the WACs became popularly known as the "Hobby cap" and became part of the official WACs uniform.

Under Hobby's leadership, the WACs gained a solid foothold in the military. By the time of her retirement from the force in the summer of 1945, the number of female soldiers had grown to 200, 000. In addition, the WACs had inspired the introduction of women into the other branches of the armed forces, resulting in the creation of the WAVES in the Navy, the SPARs in the Coast Guard, and the Women Marines. For her work to establish the role of women in the army during wartime, Hobby was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Named Secretary of HEW

Following her departure from the WACs, Hobby returned to Houston and resumed her duties at the Post. By 1952, she had become coeditor and publisher of the newspaper. Although traditionally she had backed Democratic politicians in her home state, during the post-war years she supported the Republican presidential candidacies of both Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. In the 1952 election she assisted in the Democrats for Eisenhower movement. When Eisenhower became president, Hobby's loyalty was rewarded; he appointed her to lead the Federal Security Agency. The agency was responsible for addressing issues that affected the health, education, and economic and social conditions of Americans. In 1953, at the recommendation of the Hoover Commission for the Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, the agency received cabinet status and was reformed as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). Hobby remained at the helm of the department, becoming a cabinet secretary on April 11, 1953.

While Hobby distinguished herself a capable and forward-thinking member of the cabinet, her tenure there was filled with frustrations. One of her major proposals, to provide government support for lost-cost health insurance plans, was strongly opposed by both conservative legislators and the American Medical Association, and was defeated. After the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk became available, Hobby's department took on responsibility for insuring equitable distribution of inoculations for children across the nation. The effort became an organizational nightmare, however, as demand for the vaccine surpassed expectations and deliveries were delayed. In addition, one of the first batches of the vaccine was contaminated, resulting in several children contracting polio and a nationwide panic. Hobby worked to reassure the public that vaccinations were safe, but in the midst of the confusion her husband fell into ill health and she resigned her post to tend to him. She once again returned to Houston in July of 1955.

Honored for Public Service

Hobby managed her husband's businesses from their home until William Hobby's death in 1964. His companies were left to Hobby, who kept the businesses competitive by backing the use of the latest technologies at the Post and KPRC. She bought another television company, WLAC-TV of Nashville, Tennessee, in 1975. She also found time to serve on the boards of businesses and nonprofit organizations, including the Bank of Texas and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her philanthropic activities included running the Hobby Foundation. Hobby occasionally was called to return to the service of the government, participating in the presidential commission on Selective Service and the Vietnam Health Education Task Force of HEW. For her lengthy history of public service, Hobby was awarded the George Catlett Marshall Medal for Public Service by the Association of the United States Army in 1978, becoming the first woman so honored. Hobby died at the age of 90 on August 16, 1995.

Further Reading

Adams, Sherman, Firsthand Report: The Story of the Eisenhower Administration, Harper, 1961.

Crawford, Ann Fears, and Crystal Sasse Ragsdale, "Mrs. Secretary: Oveta Culp Hobby," Women in Texas: Their Lives, Their Experiences, Their Accomplishments, Eakin Press, 1982, pp. 249-59.

Eisenhower, Dwight D., Mandate for Change, 1953-1956, Doubleday, 1963.

Holm, Jeanne, Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, Presidio Press, 1982.

Hurt, Harry III, "The Last of the Great Ladies, " Texas Monthly, October 1978, pp. 143-48, 225-40.

Miles, Rufus E., Jr., The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Praeger, 1974. □

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Hobby, Oveta Culp

Hobby, Oveta Culp (1905–1995), public official and newspaper publisher.Born and raised in Killeen, Texas, Oveta Culp accompanied her father, a lawyer‐politician, to Austin when he was elected to the state House of Representatives. She served as parliamentarian of the house (1925–31, 1939–41). In 1931, she married William P. Hobby, former governor of Texas and publisher of the Houston Post, on which she later held several positions. In World War II, when Congress created the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs), she was appointed first director of the WAACs in 1942, and first director of its successor, the Women's Army Corps (WACs), established in 1943 as a branch of the U.S. Army.

Despite the important roles of the WAACs and WACs, many military commanders resented the idea of women undertaking military jobs, and many male soldiers shared this misogyny, which resulted in vicious rumor campaigns against the female soldiers. Hobby and her supporters withstood extremists' accusations of undermining American womanhood and undermining the sanctity of home and the family. Despite the valuable service of the women in uniform, Hobby's rank was limited to colonel, even though the WACs eventually numbered more than 100,000 female soldiers. She remained director of the WACs until 1945 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed her first secretary of the newly created Department of Health, Education and Welfare. She thus became the second woman (after former Secretary of Labour Frances Perkins) to hold a cabinet post. In 1955, she resigned to succeed her ailing husband as editor of the Houston Post; she became chair of the newspaper's board of directors in 1965.
[See also Women in the Military.]

RitaVictoria Gomez

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Hobby, Oveta Culp

Oveta Culp Hobby, 1905–95, American public official and newspaper publisher, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (1953–55), b. Killeen, Tex. She served as parliamentarian of the Texas house of representatives from 1925 to 1931 and from 1939 to 1941. In 1931 she married William Pettus Hobby, former governor of Texas (1917–21) and publisher of the Houston Post. She held various positions on the newspaper and at the family-owned broadcasting company. In World War II she became (1942) director of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which, in 1943, became the Women's Army Corps (WAC). She was commissioned colonel in 1943 and remained director until 1945. Appointed Federal Security Administrator under President Eisenhower, she became (Apr., 1953) the first Secretary of the newly created Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, the only woman in the cabinet. In July, 1955, she resigned to succeed her ailing husband as editor of the Houston Post, later (1965) becoming chairman of the board. The newspaper, now closed, was sold to the Toronto Sun Publishing Co. of Canada in 1983.

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