Delco, Wilhelmina R. 1929–
Wilhelmina R. Delco 1929–
Elected to a school board seat, Wilhelmina Ruth Delco was the first African American elected to the school board of Travis County, Texas. She spent twenty years serving in the Texas state legislature. After leaving the legislature, she accepted a position as adjunct professor of education at the University of Texas.
Delco was born on July 16, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois. She was the first of five children born to Juanita Fitzgerald Watson and William P. Fitzgerald, Sr. Her mother was a probation officer, while her father was a court deputy to a Chicago judge. Delco was very close to her mother, who was her role model. Her mother stressed the importance of education. Delco told the Austin American-Statesman, “My mother felt that education was the only thing nobody could take away from you.”
As a Wendell Phillips High School student, Delco was active in student government organizations. She served as president of her senior class and graduated salutatorian. Delco continued her education at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was involved in dramatics and sociology projects. She was a student during the early tenure of Fisk’s first black president, Charles Spurgeon Johnson, an internationally renowned sociologist. In 1950 Delco received her B.A., majoring in sociology and minoring in economics and business administration.
While at Fisk Delco met Exalton Alfonso Delco, Jr., a native of Houston, Texas. The couple married in 1952, and moved to Austin in 1957. The Delcos eventually had four children: Deborah, Exalton Alfonso III, Loretta, and Cheryl. An involved parent, Delco served as president of an elementary school Parent-Teachers Association (PTA), a junior high school PTA, and a county PTA council. A life member of the Texas Congress PTA, Delco was also the first black elected to the school board of Travis County, Texas.
Delco has been involved with numerous civic organizations. Among her involvements with educational committees and boards, Delco has held membership on the Education Commission of the State’s Task Force on Education for Economic Growth; served as a board member of the Southern Education Foundation; and was chairman of the Educational Testing Service Board in Princeton, New Jersey.
From 1974 to 1995, Delco served as a Democratic in the Texas House of Representatives, representing, District Fifty, Travis County. She was the first black legislator from District Fifty. Her commitment to education resounded through her legislative committee appointments. She served at least five consecutive legislative sessions as chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. She also served on the State, Federal, and International Relations committees.
Delco has received much recognition for her work in the Texas state legislature. The Texas Observer cited her as one of the “brightest spots in the House” and “a dedicated and forthright leader.” She was named Distinguished Professional Woman for 1987 by the Committee on the Status of Women at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Born July 16, 1928, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Juanita Heath Watson (a probation officer) and William P. Fitzgerald (a court deputy); married Dr. Exalton A.Delco, Jr., 1952; children: Deborah, Exalton III, Loretta, Cheryl. Education: Fisk University, B.A., 1950. Politics: Democrat.
Career: Texas House of Representatives, 1974-95; University of Texas, adjunct professor.
Memberships: Texas Congress PTA, life member; first black elected to the Travis County, TX, school board; Austin League of Women Voters; Education Commission, State’s Task Force on Education for Economic Growth; Southern Education Foundation; and Educational Testing Service Board, Princeton, NJ, former chair; Vision Village, head.
Awards: Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in Austin, inducted, 1986; Distinguished Professional Woman, Committee on the Status of Women, University of Texas Health Science Center, 1987; building named in her honor, Prairie A&M University, 1996; Legends of Texas Award, 1999; honorary degrees from St. Edward University, Lee College, Southwestern University, Houston-Tillotson College, and Wiley College; numerous other awards.
Addresses: Office —University of Texas, Department of Education Administration, Room SZB 310, Austin, TX 78712.(512)471-7551.
In 1986 Delco was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. At that time, she chaired the state legislative committee on higher education and was recognized for providing permanent funding to public state universities. To further attest to her recognition as a champion for higher education, Delco has received honorary degrees from St. Edward University, Lee College, Southwestern University, Houston-Tillotson College, and Wiley College.
After leaving the Texas state legislature in 1995, Delco remained active in community affairs. She served as chair of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Equality and Integrity for then U.S. Education Secretary Richard Rile. Delco co-founded and headed Vision Village, a non-profit group. The organization worked toward building a neighborhood which would house unwed mothers, the elderly, and a school for students who were at risk of dropping out. Also, when then-governor George W. Bush signed a bill abolishing Capital Metro’s board of directors in 1997, Delco was named to the transit agency’s interim board. She has also taken a position as adjunct professor of education at the University of Texas.
Notable Black American Women, Book One. Gale Research, 1992.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 14th edition. Gale, 2001.
Who’s Who Among Black Americans, 6th ed. Gale Research, 1990.
Austin American-Statesman, August 13, 1996, p. El; August 24, 1996, p. Al; May 24, 1997, p. Al; January 28, 1999, p. B4.
Fisk News, Winter 1989, pp. 19-20.
Houston Chronicle, February 19, 1996, p. 23.
Informer (Texas), October 10, 1987.
Biography Resource Center, Gale, 2001, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC
Texas State Legislature, http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legis/women.htm (February 19, 2002).
University of Texas, http://www.utexas.edu (February 19, 2002).
Additional materials for this profile include: Wilhelmina Delco’s resume, 1988; Edelen Communications News Release, September 23, 1986; and an interview with Mrs. Delco, conducted by Mavis Donnelly, February 27, 1990.
—Joan Adams Bahner and Jennifer M. York
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