Oveta Culp Hobby

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Oveta Hobby
1st United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
In office
April 11, 1953 – July 13, 1955
President Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by Position established
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 R. Ewing
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born Oveta Culp
(1905-01-19)January 19, 1905
Killeen, Texas
Died August 16, 1995(1995-08-16) (aged 90)
Houston, Texas
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) William Hobby
Alma mater 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 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[edit]

Culp was born on January 19, 1905, in Killeen, Texas to Isaac William Culp and Emma Elizabeth Hoover. An autodidact, 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 did go onto study law at the University of Texas Law School.[1] Starting at age 21 for several years she served as parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives.

War service[edit]

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 be in Army uniform. 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[edit]

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. 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.

She resigned her post in 1955 to return to Houston to care for her ailing husband. 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 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.[2]

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

Personal life[edit]

In 1930 she began working at the Houston Post newspaper which launched her journalistic career. In 1931 she married William P. Hobby, the former Governor of Texas who was the publisher of the Houston Post, and took a position as research editor at the Post. They had two children together. In ensuing years she became the newspaper's executive vice president, then its president, ultimately becoming its publisher. In 1938 she became the vice president of the newspaper and gave greater prominence to women's news.[3]

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)


  1. ^ "Oveta Culp Hobby | Humanities Texas". www.humanitiestexas.org. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  2. ^ Smith, Jean Edward, Eisenhower in War and Peace (N.Y.: Random House, 1st ed. 2012 (ISBN 978-1-4000-6693-3)), p. 756.
  3. ^ "Oveta Culp Hobby | Humanities Texas". www.humanitiestexas.org. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  4. ^ "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

External links[edit]

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
Position abolished
New office United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
Succeeded by
Marion Folsom