Oveta Culp Hobby

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Oveta Culp Hobby
1st United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
In office
April 11, 1953 – July 13, 1955
President Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by Herself (Federal Security Agency Administrator)
Succeeded by Marion Folsom
Administrator of the Federal Security Agency
In office
January 20, 1953 – April 11, 1953
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by Oscar Ewing
Succeeded by Herself (Health, Education and Welfare Secretary)
Personal details
Oveta Culp

(1905-01-19)January 19, 1905
Killeen, Texas, U.S.
Died August 16, 1995(1995-08-16) (aged 90)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Political party Democratic (Before 1953)
Republican (1953–1995)
Spouse(s) William Hobby
Education University of Mary Hardin
South Texas College of Law
University of Texas, Austin
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Commands Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women's Army Corps)
Battles/wars World War II
Awards U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Army Distinguished Service Medal
Hobby (right) during World War II

Oveta Culp Hobby (January 19, 1905 – August 16, 1995) was the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, first director of the Women's Army Corps, and a chairperson of the board of the Houston Post.

Early life

Culp was born on January 19, 1905, in Killeen, Texas to Texas lawyer and legislator Isaac William Culp and Emma Elizabeth Hoover. She briefly attended Mary Hardin Baylor College for Women, and attended law classes at South Texas College of Law and Commerce. She did not graduate from either school. She went on to study law at the University of Texas Law School,[1] but she did not formally enroll and therefore never received a degree.[2] Starting at age 21, for several years she served as parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives before beginning a journalism career in 1931, at age 26.

War service

During World War II she headed the War Department's Women's Interest Section for a short time and then became the Director of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women's Army Corps), which was created to fill gaps left by a shortage of men. The members of the WAC were the first women other than nurses to wear U.S. Army uniforms and to receive military benefits through the GI Bill. Hobby devoted herself to integrating the WAAC within the military, despite considering women's military involvement a temporary necessity, and worked to protect and strengthen the WAC and its image. As Director, she raised admission standards and created a Code of Conduct specific to the WAC to create a tightly regulated, high quality organization that portrayed women's corps in a good light. These standards, along with actions to guard the morals and image of members, developed from Hobby's prior experience with publicity and knowledge of the importance of media representation.[3] Hobby achieved the rank of colonel and received the Distinguished Service Medal for efforts during the war. She was the first woman in the Army to receive this award.

Political career

President Dwight D. Eisenhower named her head of the Federal Security Agency, a non-cabinet post, and she was invited to sit in on cabinet meetings. Soon, on April 11, 1953, she became the first secretary, and first female secretary, of the new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which later became the Department of Health and Human Services.[4] This was her second time organizing a new government agency. Among other decisions and actions at HEW, she made the decision to approve Jonas Salk's polio vaccine.

Culp attempted to restructure Social Security payroll taxes (FICA and SECA), and was met with strong opposition. She resigned her post in 1955. At the time of her resignation she was embroiled in controversies related to the polio vaccine Cutter Incident. Back in Houston, Hobby resumed her position with the Houston Post as president and editor and cared for her ailing husband. She went on to serve on many boards and advisory positions with various civic and business institutions around the country. Seventeen colleges and universities, including Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, awarded her honorary doctoral degrees. She was the first woman who was considered for a United States presidential candidacy by an incumbent United States President; Eisenhower encouraged her to run for president in 1960, but she did not run.[5]

Colonel Hobby's portrait in military uniform at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Personal life and family

In 1931, she married former Governor of Texas William P. Hobby, editor and future owner of the Houston Post, and took a position on the editorial staff at the Post.[3] They had two children together. In ensuing years she became the newspaper's executive vice president, then its president, ultimately becoming its publisher and co-owner with her husband. In 1938, upon becoming vice president of the newspaper, she gave greater prominence to women's news.[1]

Hobby and her husband were both Southern Democrats, but soon became dissatisfied with the party throughout the 1930s. They believed Franklin D. Roosevelt's social programs overextended their original intent. After World War II, Hobby tried to sway Democratic voters to swing Republican for presidential nominees by establishing many statewide organizations.[6]

She died of a stroke in 1995, in Houston, and was buried at Glenwood Cemetery.

Her son William P. Hobby, Jr., served as Lieutenant Governor of Texas from 1973 to 1991. Her daughter Jessica was married to Henry E. Catto, Jr., the former United States Ambassador to Great Britain and was an activist for environmental causes and for the Democratic Party. Hobby’s grandson Paul Hobby narrowly lost the election for comptroller of Texas to Carole Strayhorn in the 1998 general election.



  • Pando, Robert T. "Oveta Culp Hobby: A Study in Power and Control." Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 2008, 220 pages.
  • Treadwell, Mattie. The Woman's Army Corps (1954)
  • Walsh, Kelli Cardenas. "Oveta Culp Hobby: A transformational leader from the Texas legislature to Washington, D.C." Ph.D. dissertation, University of South Carolina, 2006, 199 pages; AAT in ProQuest
  • Winegarten, Debra L. Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist (2014)

See also

  • List of female United States Cabinet Secretaries
  • Hutchison, Kay Bailey. "Women's History Month: "Oveta Culp Hobby"". Humanities Texas. Humanities Texas.


  1. ^ a b "Oveta Culp Hobby | Humanities Texas". www.humanitiestexas.org. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
  2. ^ Debra L. Winegarten (2014). Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist. p. 12. ISBN 9780292758100. OCLC 872569551.
  3. ^ a b Meyer, Leisa D. (1996). Creating GI Jane Sexuality and Power in the Women's Army Corps During World War II. New York: Columbia University Press.
  4. ^ Pennington, Reina; Higham, Robin (2003). Amazons to fighter pilots : a biographical dictionary of military women / Vol. 1, A-Q. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 201. OCLC 773504359.
  5. ^ Smith, Jean Edward, Eisenhower in War and Peace (N.Y.: Random House, 1st ed. 2012 ( ISBN 978-1-4000-6693-3)), p. 756.
  6. ^ D., Meyer, Leisa (1996). Creating GI Jane : sexuality and power in the Women's Army Corps during World War II. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 17. ISBN 0231101449. OCLC 34473260.
  7. ^ "Tucsonian Honored For Indian Work". Tucson, Arizona: The Tucson Daily Citizen. April 13, 1962. p. 18. Retrieved 4 August 2016 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ "Independence Village". students.umhb.edu. Retrieved 2017-08-21.
  9. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Oveta Culp Hobby

External links

  • Papers of Oveta Culp Hobby, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
  • Guide to the Oveta Culp Hobby Papers, 1817–1995 at the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University
  • Oveta Culp Hobby and the Women's Army Corps
  • Spring, Kelly. "Oveta Hobby". National Women's History Museum. 2017.
  • Women in the U.S. Army
  • War-time interview with Oveta Culp Hobby on January 16, 1944, edition of CBS's World News Today
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Erich von Manstein
Cover of Time
17 January 1944
Succeeded by
Jimmy Durante
Political offices
Preceded by
Oscar Ewing
Administrator of the Federal Security Agency
Succeeded by
as United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
Preceded by
as Administrator of the Federal Security Agency
United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
Succeeded by
Marion Folsom
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