The name Oveta Culp Hobby is probably somewhat familiar to Texans, whether or not they may know who she actually was. She was born Oveta Hoover Culp on January 19, 1905 in Killeen, Bell County, Texas to Isaac William Culp (1870-1934) and the former Emma Elizabeth Hoover (1881-1959). Isaac was born in Coryell County to John Robinson Culp and the former Mary A. Dole. John Robinson Culp’s parents were Josiah C. Culp, Jr. (1819-1879) and Rachel Eaton. Less is probably known about Josiah than his son John Robinson Culp or grandson Isaac William Culp, but Josiah is believed to have come to Texas from the southeast prior to the Civil War and served for some period in the Confederate Army, possibly the entire time in the Frontier Brigade, in Texas having enlisted in Gatesville.
Oveta Culp was the second of at least six children and was educated in Texas, at least for some time having studied at Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, Texas. Her father listed his business as being an employee of an oil company and at various times, he was elected to public office. Oveta is known to have held a number of jobs including working as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. She had earned a law degree from University of Texas in 1925. While she was still a law student, she had worked for the Texas House of Representatives as parliamentarian and later later for the State Banking Commission. According to the 1930 census, in that year she was living in Dallas working as a lawyer. She had also been involved in various political campaigns over the years. In her only campaign for public office, she was unsuccessful in a bid for a state representative seat, but she remained active in politics.
In 1931, Oveta married William Pettus Hobby, former governor of Texas, who was about 27 years her senior. Hobby was a family friend of the Culps, as Isaac was affiliated with the Democratic Party and had served as a State Representative at various times in the 26th, 36th and 38th state legislatures. William P. Hobby had served for about three years as Lieutenant Governor after his election to the post in 1914 and 1916. Upon the impeachment of Governor James E. Ferguson in 1917, he succeeded to the office of Governor. Hobby won an election to the post of Governor in 1918 and served until 1921 when his successor, Willard Arnold Johnson was inaugurated. Hobby’s business background was in newspaper publishing at the Beaumont Enterprise and later the Houston Post. Together the couple was engaged in publishing the Post until the outbreak of World War II.
The couple had recently purchased a radio station (KPRC) and were in Washington, D. C. on business in connection with the broadcasting business when Oveta was approached by someone on behalf of the War Department and asked to help organize a women’s section of the Army. She served as head of the Women’s Interest Section of the War Department for a year or two until 1942, when she was made director of the organization first known as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later redesignated the Women’s Army Corps in 1943. The organization was created to engage women in noncombatant duty during World War II. In 1945, women involved in the WAC numbered around 90,000. She served in that capacity until her resignation at the rank of colonel in 1945. She was the first woman to serve as an American colonel. She was the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal when she was recognized for her service during World War II. The WAC was made part of the regular Army in 1948.
For the next several years, she served in various capacities for the American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society and in 1948 was named a delegate to the United nations. Oveta was affiliated with the Democratic Party during the election of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and in the spring of 1953, he appointed her to serve as Secretary of the newly created department of Health, Education and Welfare, making her only the second woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. One of the notable accomplishments during her tenure was the development and adoption of the Salk polio vaccine. After her retirement from public service, she continued to be involved in publishing the Houston Post and serve as a trustee for various companies and charitable organizations.
Her husband William P. Hobby had predeceased her in 1964 at the age of 86. Oveta passed in 1995 at the age of 90. Both are buried in Houston’s Glenwood Cemetery. The couple had two children. Houston’s municipal airport was named Hobby Airport in 1967 for William Hobby. The Oveta Culp Hobby Soldier & Family Readiness Center at Fort Hood, Texas is named for her. In addition, an elementary school in Killeen, Texas is also named after her. The United States Postal Service issued an 84-cent stamp in her honor in 2011.
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