Oveta Culp Hobby, who fought the polio epidemic as the nation’s first secretary of health, education and welfare and led the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, died Wednesday. She was 90.
Hobby, whose media holdings made her one of the nation’s richest women, suffered a stroke April 17 and had been ill for a long time, a family spokeswoman said.”Her dedication to public service and her take-charge business savvy blazed a trail for countless Texas and American women,” said Bush.
In 1941, Hobby was helping her husband, former Gov. William P. Hobby Sr., run the family-owned Houston Post when she was named head of the War Department’s Women’s Interest Section. She was named colonel and the first commanding officer of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in 1942.
The 5-foot-4 Hobby, nicknamed the “Little Colonel,” sometimes chanted “Give me my sword!” before leaving her Pentagon office and climbing into the only powder-blue Cadillac in the government fleet.In 1944, she became the first woman to receive the Distinguished Service Medal.
President Eisenhower named Hobby head of the Federal Security Agency in 1953. Later that year, the agency was renamed the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and its secretary made part of the Cabinet.
Her tenure’s most critical test came with the announcement of the Salk vaccine to prevent polio, which had stricken thousands in a 1952 epidemic. She was praised for having the patience to hold the announcement until the vaccine had been properly tested.
Hobby resigned in 1955 and returned to Houston.