The First Female Army Colonel was Texan Oveta Culp Hobby

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Tony Maples Photography


In Texas, the name Hobby may be familiar, but do you know the woman behind the name? Oveta Culp Hobby achieved great things in her time, including becoming the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the first director of the Women’s Army Corps, and the first woman considered for United States presidential candidacy by an incumbent United States President. Dwight Eisenhower encouraged her to run in 1960, but she chose not to follow this recommendation. Born on January 19, 1905, in Killeen, Oveta attended law classes at South Texas College of Law and Commerce as well as at the University of Texas Law School. She went on to serve as parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives, then went into journalism.

The First Female Army Colonel was Texan Oveta Culp Hobby

Facebook/Bayou City History

During World War II, she took charge of the War Department’s Women’s Interest Section, then organized and became the Director of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women’s Army Corps), which was created to fill work gaps from deployed men. Members of WAAC were the first women beyond nurses to wear U.S. Army uniforms and to receive military benefits through the GI Bill. When Oveta retired in 1945, she had commanded 100,00 women at more than 200 posts and in every theater of wartime operations. Oveta 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 rank and award.

The First Female Army Colonel was Texan Oveta Culp Hobby

Facebook/Central Texas College – Hobby Memorial Library

On April 11, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower named her head of the Federal Security Agency, and later that year, she was named the first secretary (and the first female secretary) of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Later, it would become the Department of Health and Human Services. Hobby was the only woman to serve in the Cabinet of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. One of her actions at HEW was to approve Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. In 1955, after meeting strong opposition to her attempts to restructure Social Security payroll taxes (FICA and SECA), she resigned her post.

Back in Houston, Oveta resumed her position with the Houston Post, ultimately becoming its publisher and co-owner with her husband, former governor of Texas William Hobby. She served on many boards and advisory positions around the country; 17 colleges and universities awarded her honorary doctoral degrees. In 1995, she died of a stroke in Houston and was buried at Glenwood Cemetery. Just a year later, Oveta Culp Hobby was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She truly made strides for women everywhere!