Hobby, Oveta Culp

views updated Jun 27 2018

Oveta Culp Hobby

Born January 5, 1905
Killeen, Texas
Died August 1995

Director of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and
first secretary of the Department of Health,

Education, and Welfare

Women have played a role in every war in American history, usually as nurses or in other supportive positions. World War II marked the first time, however, that women other than nurses served within the ranks of the U.S. Army. The original purpose of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which later became the Women's Army Corps, was to "free men for combat" by having women perform many of the military's noncombat duties. But it also allowed women to demonstrate their loyalty to their country while showing that they could perform as well as men did in the same positions. Oveta Culp Hobby had already achieved much in her life by the time she became the WAC's first director, and she went on to manage the agency with dedication and energy.

A busy and talented young woman

Born in Killeen, Texas, Hobby was an excellent student who attended the Mary Hardin Baylor College for Women. She decided to become a lawyer like her father, and she attended the University of Texas Law School. By the time she was only twenty years old, Hobby had become Houston's assistant city attorney as well as the parliamentarian of the Texas legislature (an expert in the formal procedures used by legislative bodies).

In 1931, when she was twenty-six, Oveta married William Hobby, a former governor of Texas and the publisher of the Houston Post newspaper. She went to work at the Post, starting as a book editor and working her way up to the position of executive vice president.

Between 1933 and 1941, Hobby was remarkably busy and productive: she worked as the parliamentarian for the Texas legislature, helped her husband manage the Post, served as president of the Texas League of Women Voters, had two children to raise, and even wrote a book on parliamentary practice (Mr. Chairman, 1936).

A way for women to serve

Meanwhile, the United States was about to get involved in World War II. In Washington in early 1941, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts had introduced a bill to establish a separate women's corps of the army. Rogers knew that women would serve in and help the army in the coming war, just as they had in World War I (1914-1918) and other conflicts. She wanted to make sure they received the same benefits and protection as men did (such as food, living quarters, legal protection, and medical care).

Although many people felt that women should not be involved in the work of war—especially if they would be serving alongside men—the army's chief of staff, General George Marshall (1880-1959; see entry), agreed that women would be well suited to perform not only office work but some communication jobs that required manual dexterity and patience. He and other army leaders believed that if women could fill many noncombatant jobs, more men would be available to fight the enemy.

Finally, Congress passed the bill authorizing the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), even though the final version featured some compromises Rogers did not want to make. For example, women serving as WAACs would be paid less than men of the same rank and position, and they would not get the same protection when they served overseas (including overseas pay, life insurance, veterans' medical coverage, and death benefits).

Taking command of the WAAC

Hobby was already in Washington when the bill was signed; she had earlier been assigned to head the new Women's Division of the War Department's Bureau of Public Relations. In fact, Hobby had helped push the bill through Congress and had testified in its favor. On the day the bill was signed—May 15, 1941—Hobby was named director of the WAAC. Her record of personal achievement and experience in local and national politics qualified her for the job. It was also thought that her attractive and "ladylike" demeanor would persuade conservative critics that the WAAC was a respectable organization.

Public response to the WAAC bill was enthusiastic. By November, the goal of 25,000 recruits to the WAAC had already been met, so a new limit of 150,000 was authorized. When the first WAAC training center was set up at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, over 35,000 women signed up for fewer than 1,000 positions.

Soon after accepting her new position, Hobby appeared at a press conference to answer questions about the WAAC and its role in the military. Some of the questions were rather silly (such as what color underwear the women would wear under their uniforms, and whether they would be able to wear makeup) but Hobby answered all of them calmly and seriously. In other speaking engagements, she explained that "the gaps our women will fill are in those noncombatant jobs where women's hands and women's hearts fit naturally. WAACs will do the same type of work which women do in civilian life. They will bear the same relation to men of the Army that they bear to the men of the civilian organizations in which they work."

The WAACs are trained and assigned

In July 1941 the first WAAC officer candidate training class (which included 440 recruits) started its six-week course at Fort Des Moines. The average officer candidate was twenty-five years old and a college graduate with experience in office work or teaching. Many of them had friends and relatives already serving in the military. A separate platoon of forty African American officer recruits was also established; these women attended class and ate meals with the white women, but all of the post'sservice clubs, theaters, and beauty shops were segregated.

In August, the first class of auxiliary or enlisted women reported. These recruits were slightly younger than the officer candidates, and most had only a high school education and less work experience.

The first qualified WAACs were sent to the Aircraft Warning Service units of the U.S. Army Air Corps. About half of the women filled office positions such as file clerk, typist, or stenographer. Others worked in such diverse jobs as weather observer and forecaster, cryptographer (working with codes and secret messages), radio operator, parachute rigger, photograph analyst, and control tower operator. Women working for the Army Transportation Corps helped process men for overseas assignments; members of the Quartermaster Corps maintained supply depots; and women assigned to the Signal Corps operated telephone switchboards and served as photographers and map analysts.

Reactions to the work of the WAACs

In general, the response to the work done by the WAACS was positive. For example, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969; see entry), commander of all the Allied forces in Europe (and future president of the United States), commented in 1945: "During the time I have had the [WAACs] under my command they have met every test and task assigned to them… their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are unmeasurable."

In 1943, however, there was a backlash of public opinion against the WAACs when rumors spread that most of the women were functioning as prostitutes and that a large number of them had become pregnant. This uproar—which showed how uncomfortable many people were when women took on nontraditional roles—died down after Hobby testified before Congress and provided evidence that the rumors were untrue. In fact, Hobby had always insisted that the WAACs maintain a high standard of performance, discipline, and morality in order to avoid such controversies.

The Army's high regard for the WAAC was confirmed in July 1943, when the organization became a part of the army itself and its name changed to the Women's Army Corps (WAC). This meant that the women would receive the same pay, privileges, and protection as men.

The war draws to a close

By the end of the war, WACs had served in a wide variety of positions in locations all over the world. For example, 300 WACs assisted in the planning of the D-Day invasion of France. An African American battalion worked in England and France redirecting the tons of mail sent to all of the U.S. personnel fighting in Europe. More than 600 WACs received medals and citations for their work during the war, including Hobby, who received the Distinguished Service Medal. With the war over, Hobby, still just forty-years-old, resigned her command and returned to Houston.

Returning to public service

A little less than ten years later, in 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Hobby the first secretary of the new Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). This made her the only female member of the president's cabinet, and only the second female cabinet member in American history.

In this position Hobby had responsibility for the Public Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the Office of Education, and the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance. In 1955, Hobby oversaw the distribution of the polio vaccine, the discovery by Jonas Salk that virtually eradicated what had been a major public health menace. That same year, she returned to Houston to care for her sick husband. When Hobby resigned, Treasury Secretary George Humphrey reportedly exclaimed, "What? The best man in the Cabinet?"

Running a successful newspaper

Hobby's husband died in 1964, and the following year she became Chairman of the Board of the Houston Post. Over the next few decades she resided over the buildup of the Post into a $100-million business. In 1983 Hobby was listed in Texas Business magazine as one of the twenty most powerful Texans (and the only woman on the list). She died in 1995.

Where to Learn More


American Decades, 1940-1949. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995, 276-77.


Bellafaire, Judith A. "The Women's Army Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service." U.S. Army Center of Military History. [Online] Available http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/WAC.HTM (November 30, 1998).

Time (August 28, 1995): 27.

Web sites

"Oveta Culp Hobby" [Online] Avialable (November 30, 1998).

Oveta Culp Hobby led more than 100,000 WACs serving in approximately 200 noncombatant positions in 400 U.S. military installations and every overseas theater of World War II.

"Rosie the Riveter": American Women at Work on the

As World War II heated up in Europe in 1939 and 1940, it seemed likely that the United States would eventually be drawn into the conflict. Yet it was clear that the U.S. military was not prepared, that it lacked not only the large number of soldiers but the equipment (such as guns, ammunition, tanks, and airplanes) that would be needed. In May 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945; see entry) announced that the United States must become the "great arsenal of democracy" for the rest of the world. This meant that the country must produce the materials that would allow democracy's defenders to win the war over dictators like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini (see entries).

To accomplish this goal, Roosevelt authorized a huge buildup in the industrial production of war materials, while other products (such as automobiles, household appliances, and bicycles) were put on hold. Meanwhile, many men were joining the armed forces, especially after Japan's attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the entry of the United States into the war. So who would take up the millions of factory jobs that had been created by the buildup? Who would make up this huge new workforce?

The answer was women. Even though the majority of American women of this period had been taught that their place was in the home, taking care of their families while their husbands earned money to support them, they were now called upon to help the war effort by working in industry and other areas. The U.S. government joined with industry to encourage women to take factory jobs, putting up posters that showed strong, determined female workers who did their parts to help their country win the war, and whose husbands were proud of them.

In February 1943 a song called "Rosie the Riveter" began to be heard over radios all over the country. Written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and sung by a group called the Four Vagabonds, the songcelebrated the historic role that women were playing in the war. Soon the term Rosie the Riveter (which the songwriters had chosen for its sound, not to honor any specific worker) came to be used as a fond nickname for the more than six million women who had joined the workforce.

Women were working in factories, shipyards, and steel mills, employed as welders, electricians, mechanics, engineers, and chemists, operating everything from cranes to streetcars and even driving taxi cabs. Dressed in coveralls and heavy shoes, they were performing jobs that had previously been the domain of men only, and they were proving to themselves and the world just what women could do.

In addition to the industrial work performed by women, about two million of them took clerical jobs, about half of these were hired by the federal government. Women also took charge of farms, and many worked as Red Cross volunteers—serving as air raid wardens, messengers, and drivers and checking the skies for enemy airplanes.

The figures for total wartime production in the United States are amazing: the country produced 296,429 airplanes, 102,351 tanks and self-propelled guns, 372,431 artillery pieces, 47 million tons of ammunition, and 84,620 warships, as well as other kinds of equipment. This massive output—which played a major role in the Allied victory—could never have been accomplished without the help of Rosie the Riveter and her friends, who came by the millions to answer their country's call for help.

After the war, most of these women were laid off from their jobs—many unwillingly—both because production decreased and because space was being made for men returning from war. Nevertheless, the war years changed forever Americans' ideas about what women could or should do in the workplace, and led to the great changes in women's roles that happened over the next five decades.

Hobby, Oveta Culp

views updated May 14 2018

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. http://www.ssa.gov/history/hobby.html (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Oveta Culp Hobby." The Texas State Historical Association. http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/HH/fho86.html (accessed on July 22, 2004).

Oveta Culp Hobby

views updated May 23 2018

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. □

Hobby, Oveta Culp

views updated May 29 2018

Hobby, Oveta Culp

(b. 19 January 1905 in Killeen, Texas; d. 16 August 1995 in Houston, Texas), commander of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, first secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and publisher of the Houston Post.

Hobby was the second of seven children born to Isaac William (“Ike”) Culp and Emma Elizabeth Hoover. She was a precocious child who visited her father’s law office after school each day to read books and other literature, including the Congressional Record, which expanded her vocabulary. At age thirteen she had read the Bible three times and was designated the best speller in her class. Early evidence of an independent nature was her refusal to sign a Sunday school pledge against alcohol use because she refused to give her word regarding a subject on which she had not made a decision. When she was fourteen years old her father was elected a member of the Texas legislature and she accompanied him to Austin, beginning a lifelong association with politics.

Hobby graduated from Killeen High School at the top of her class and briefly considered a career in the theater after a Chautauqua manager, impressed with her dramatic reading, offered her a touring contract. Bowing to her parents’ objections, she enrolled in Mary Hardin Baylor College in Belton, Texas, and became a cub reporter for the Austin American Statesman. In 1925 the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives asked Hobby, then age twenty, to become parliamentarian of the House. She served in the post until 1931 and later wrote Mr. Chairman (1937), a book on parliamentary law, and continued her studies at the University of Texas, though she did not graduate.

Hobby, who had been a clerk for the State Banking Commission before her appointment as parliamentarian, was active in the Democratic Club. She helped plan the party’s national nominating convention in Houston in 1928 and worked for the election of Senator Tom Connally in his defeat of the Ku Klux Klan candidate, Earle B. May-field. She worked as an assistant to Houston’s city attorney until released to resume her duties as parliamentarian of the Texas House, and ran unsuccessfully for a legislative post at the age of twenty-five. She was defeated partially because her opponent accused her of being “a parliamentarian and a Unitarian.”

On 23 February 1931 she married William Pettus Hobby, who had served as governor of Texas from 1917 to 1921. The groom was fifty-three years of age and the bride twenty-six. She joined him at the Houston Post-Dispatch, then owned by former governor Ross Sterling. Later the Hobbys bought the newspaper and also acquired radio and television interests. By 1955 Hobby’s career in journalism had included duties as book editor, assistant editor, executive vice president, and president. She also served as president of the League of Women Voters in Texas and was active as a board member of fine-arts organizations in Houston. The Hobbys were the parents of two children. Their son, William Pettus Hobby, Jr., served as lieutenant governor of Texas from 1973 to 1991.

In 1941 Hobby visited Washington to represent family interests before the Federal Communications Commission. While there, General David Searles asked her to organize women’s activities for the army. She declined, but accepted a subsequent request that she help plan the Women’s Interest Section, War Department Bureau of Public Relations. She visited British and French women’s military auxiliaries at the request of General George Marshall to learn from their experiences. Hobby was in Chicago on a speaking engagement when Japanese air and naval forces attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941; General Marshall called her speech the first declaration of war against Japan. He then asked Hobby to prepare a list of names of women who could command a Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (renamed in 1943 the Women’s Army Corp, or WACs.) He read the list, then said, “I’d rather you took the job.” Hobby entered the army with the rank of major and eventually reached full colonel, though she admitted, “I never did learn to salute properly or master the thirty-inch stride.” She endured slights from male soldiers. Army engineers refused to help her design barracks for WACs, and the quartermaster corps ignored her suggestions for uniforms. Despite reluctance by males to accept them, women were eventually qualified to perform 264 jobs in the military service, releasing hundreds of thousands of men for combat or combat-support duty. Though the WACs had a strength authorization of only 150,000, requests for their assignment reached 600,000.

Hobby resigned from the army in 1945 and returned to Houston as director of KPRC radio and KPRC-TV. She accepted positions on the boards of the American National Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, among others, and was a member of the United Nations Commission on Freedom of Information and the Press in 1948.

Although a Democrat, she worked for the election of the Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 and headed Democrats for Eisenhower in 1952. In January 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Hobby chairman of the Federal Security Agency and invited her to participate in Cabinet meetings. On 11 April 1953 Congress elevated the agency to Cabinet status and renamed it the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Hobby became the second woman to hold a Cabinet position and the first to hold that rank since the departure of Frances Perkins, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor. Hobby’s agency had a $17.7 billion annual budget (in 1953 dollars). During her term the Salk polio vaccine was introduced and there was a significant increase in federal funding for hospitals.

After thirty-one months in office, Hobby returned to Houston in 1955 because of her husband’s declining health and resumed duties as president and editor of the Houston Post. She also accepted positions on the boards of Rice University, the Texas Heart Association, General Foods Corporation, and the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television. Hobby was named to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984. She died of a stroke and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.

The best source is an article written by Hobby’s son, William Pettus Hobby, Jr., for Ron Tyler et al., The New Handbook of Texas, vol. 3 (1996): 637–640. A biography appears in Ann Fears Crawford and Crystal Sasse Ragsdale, Women in Texas (1982). Hobby is discussed in Marguerite Johnston, Houston, The Unknown City, 1836–1946 (1991). A biography published shortly after Hobby was named secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare appears in Current Biography 1953. Obituaries are in the New York Times (17 Aug. 1995) and the Austin American Statesman (17 Aug. 1995).

Archie P. Mcdonald

Hobby, Oveta Culp

views updated Jun 08 2018

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