Volume 17 :: Number 2
Spring 2012

City Savvy
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The “other” Hobby
Oveta Culp Hobby legacy just as important as her husband's, son's
oveta Culp
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(Top photo): Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, who became the first director of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps . (Bottom photo): A quote from Hobby at the National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

They called her “The Little Colonel.”

The name was given to Oveta Culp Hobby in 1941, during World War II, after U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall appointed her chief of the women’s division Bureau of Public Relations in the War Department.

He asked Hobby to develop plans for a woman’s auxiliary branch of the army and to train them in noncombatant military jobs, thus freeing a man for combat. She created The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, which became the Women’s Army Corps in 1943. The original volunteers included typists, stenographers and telephone operators and grew to include cryptographers, radio operators and sheet metal workers. Colonel Hobby started the division in 1942, and by 1945, the WAC had grown to 100,000.

“The president wanted the men to be in the fields, fighting the war,” said Bob Pando, a local historian who has written about Hobby. “But they still needed administrators. They had Mrs. Hobby come in and organize the whole thing. She was a very strong person and very well organized. That’s where the nickname came from.”

Houstonians are used to hearing about the Hobby family: the William P. Hobby Airport; The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts; the Hobby Family Foundation.

But most of the fame is for William P. Hobby, the Houston publisher and governor of Texas, to whom Oveta Culp Hobby was married.

While she left a silent, strong imprint on Houston and the nation, she’s still a mystery.

Hobby was an influential woman, yet no official biography has been written about her. She wasn’t a major advocate for feminism, yet she was a symbol of it.

After World War II, she was appointed the first secretary of the new Department of Health, Education and Welfare, later the Department of Health and Human Services. She served for two years before returning to Houston to care for her ailing husband and to become editor and president of the Houston Post.

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Col. Oveta Culp Hobby (right) talks with auxiliary Margaret Peterson and Capt. Elizabeth Gilbert at Mitchel Field.

She continued her philanthropy.

“She would get appointed to a committee, then, she would end up leading the committee, then she would eventually end up leading the entire organization,” said Pando, who completed his dissertation on Hobby at Florida State University and is converting it into a biography. “She had that much influence on people.”

Hobby could hold her own among business elite.Pando told a story, discovered during his research, about Hobby going to exclusive parties and feeling more comfortable with the wildcatters than the ladies.

“She would walk into a social gathering, and there would be men on one side of the room talking business and running things, and on the other side of the room were the women talking about lighter things,” Pando said. “She gravitated towards the men and would jump right in.”

Pando said Hobby wasn’t a big political proponent of women’s rights.

“She wasn’t a feminist, necessarily,” Pando said. “And she was always comfortable saying that.

She wasn’t a strong campaigner of women’s rights, and yet, she stood as a great example of women’s liberation. I think for her it was a political decision. I don’t think she felt connected with those in the movement at the time.”

Hobby was an avid art collector, and donated hundreds of pieces to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Even with all of her accomplishments and contributions to Houston, there’s nothing in Houston bearing only her name, Pando. “I think it’s because her husband, and later her son, were so well-known. Also, her accomplishments were more on a national scale, than on a Houston or Texas scale.”

Joel Draught, Library, was a photographer at the Houston Post when Hobby was president of the newspaper. He recalled a “very genteel” woman who invited new employees for tea.

“At one point, when my group met with her, she asked us what we would do to make the Houston Post better,” Draught recalled.

Even with that gentility, Hobby was all business, all the time.

“There was no question who was in charge. She didn’t believe in waste.” Draught said. “There was a private elevator that was just for her office. She never used it. I think she thought it was wasteful to have an elevator for just one person.”

 

 
 
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