At a time when women “do” many things, it’s easy to forget the trailblazers who were unusual precisely because they were women who reached high positions despite their gender at a time when women weren’t expected to.
Consider Oveta Culp Hobby.
By the time she died at the age of 90 in 1995, Oveta had been the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services), the first commanding officer of the Women’s Army Corps, and publisher of the Houston Post, for more than 100 years one of Houston’s major newspapers.
As a young woman, she was an attorney, journalist and member of the Junior League of Houston, and moved on from there to national prominence with grace and ease.
Oveta became parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives at the age of 21. Marrying William P. Hobby, the former Governor of Texas and the publisher of the Houston Post, she worked her way up from the newspaper’s research editor to executive vice president, president, ultimately becoming its publisher.
With the onset of World War II, Oveta headed the War Department’s Women’s Interest Section before being named director of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women’s Army Corps), which brought women into the armed forces to replace men in non-combat support roles, rising to Colonel and later receiving the Distinguished Service Medal for her efforts during the war.
After the war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower named her head of the Federal Security Agency and, in 1952, tapped her to start up the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, where among other things she made the decision to approve Jonas Salk‘s polio vaccine.
Returning to Houston in 1955 to care for her ailing husband, she also resumed her role in managing the Houston Post and remained active in a wide range of boards and advisory positions there and around the country.
Quite a life!