Women in Government: Oveta Culp Hobby

Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby was a pioneer for women in government. She was the first woman to serve in the cabinet of a Republican President, the first head of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW eventually split and became Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education).

Born Oveta Culp in Killeen, Texas on January 19, 1905. The daughter of a prominent state legislator, young Miss Culp was asked by the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives asked her to serve as the House Parliamentarian at the age of 20. In 1931, she married former Texas Governor and Houston Post PublisherWilliam P. Hobby, nearly 30 years her senior. Colonel Hobby would eventually become executive vice-president, president and publisher of the Houston Post.

At the beginning of WWII, Oveta Culp Hobby was selected to head up the Women’s Interest Section in the War Department. When the WAAC in 1942 (later to become the Women’s Army Corps) was created to have women serve in uniform in place of all the fallen male soldiers, Colonel Hobby was named as its director.

In January of 1953, newly inaugurated Dwight D. Eisenhower named Hobby Director of the Federal Security Administration. This was a non-cabinet post, and included agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Office of Education. In April of 1953, the Eisenhower Administration established the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, naming Colonel Hobby as its first Cabinet Secretary.

Colonel Hobby would hold the post for two years, returning to Houston in 1955 to take care of her husband, former Governor William P. Hobby (1878-1964). Secretary Hobby passed away from natural causes in 1995.

For further reading:

Rice Fondren Library

Women in Texas History (audio)

Interested in Women in Government?

Please check out our Advancing Women in Government series on GovInsights

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I proudly sold subscriptions for her husband’s Newspaper, the Houston Post, in the 1970’s when Texas was booming–Gov. Hobby’s company treated me real well, inlcuding giving me a college scholarship.

Oveta’s legacy makes me proud of my Texan past/heritage–good people DO come out of Texas to serve the American People.

Sue Breland

Thanks for sharing this information about a great lady and Texan. Her quote is one of my very favorites regarding WWII and at the WWII Memorial.