Oveta Culp Hobby

1100 Congress Ave Austin

Austin History Center
Written By Austin History Center

The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.

During World War II, the War Department received over 10,000 letters a day from women asking what they could do. How could they serve their country? Oveta Culp Hobby was in DC at the time talking to the Federal Communications Commission. She had already broken many traditional boundaries. She attended University of Texas Law School even though law firms at the time weren't interested in female attorneys, and at barely 20, she became a parliamentarian here in the Capitol for the Texas House of Representatives. By the time she'd arrived in DC, Oveta was running KPRC radio station and the Houston Post. According to her:

“For every one of the 1,500,000 men in the Army today, there are four or five women -- mothers, wives, sisters, sweethearts -- who are closely and personally interested.” -- Oveta Culp Hobby

With a salary of a dollar a year, the War Department tasked Hobby with planning a department geared toward these women, and the Women’s Interest Section was born.  

But Oveta didn't stay there long. She soon headed the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women's Army Corps) in an effort to frantically fill crucial, non-combatant military roles in the wake of the nation's loss of men to the war effort. 

The work was constant. Oveta traveled all over the country enlisting female volunteers. Every night she had to wash and iron her uniform -- the only Women’s Army uniform in existence at the time. 

But the problems were only beginning. When it came time to start housing these female volunteers, the army engineers refused to design the building -- saying these women weren’t army. The women had to design their own. 

The commandant ordered a fence built around the women’s barracks and wouldn’t let them participate with men at the nightly movies. 

When Oveta was able to enlist female physicians and nurses who wanted to help, the comptroller refused to pay them, saying their efforts did not count as military service. 

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When Oveta was permitted to utilize the facilities of the Army-Navy club, it was only if she entered via the back door. 

But the female volunteers couldn’t be stopped. They operated PBXs, cleaned kitchens, folded parachutes. When the legislation creating the WAAC expired, WAACs had the opportunity to transition to the Women's Army Corp, and more than 75% did just that. Once part of the army, WACs received the same benefits, pay and rank as their male counterparts. Within the year, the women were fulfilling 239 different roles.

By 1945 Oveta had worked herself far beyond burnout. She requested permission to resign. Once granted, she took the train home to Texas, where her husband waited for her with a stretcher. She checked into a hospital and slowly recovered. 

That year Oveta, the woman who didn't count as military, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the US Army.

But Oveta wasn't done. In 1953 she was called on to work for President Eisenhower, becoming the first appointed chairman of the Federal Security Agency, later reconstituted as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In 1964 she became the first chairman of the Bank of Texas. Oveta continued to run the Houston Post until 1983.    

Citations:

Handbook of Texas Online, William P. Hobby, Jr., "Hobby, Oveta Culp," accessed October 11, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fho86

Cover photo credit tinitykitty24 via Instagram. 

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