Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist
by Debra Winegarten

University of Texas Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-292-72268-2.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 03/30/2014

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context; Nonfiction: Teen/Girls

"Go for it" we tell our young people. "You can do anything you want to do; be anything you want to be." Sounds good, but sometimes they are skeptical.

Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist is a good book to hand to a questioning middle-schooler. Some people do seem to do it all, and Hobby, as author Debra Winegarten demonstrates, is one of them. The apt title describes only three of Oveta Culp Hobby's multiple accomplishments.

The daughter of a Texas state legislator, the young Oveta Culp went off to Austin with her dad. There she found sitting in on the lawmakers more enticing than sitting in the classroom. She learned lots; before she was old enough to vote, she was selected to be Parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives. She was off and running on a lifetime of achievement and adventures.

Oveta Culp worked at a Houston newspaper, later she was its owner. She attended law school; she married former Texas governor Will Hobby and had two babies (both born on her birthday). Life was nearly perfect until the 1940s rocked the Hobby family as it did so many in America. But in this family Mother went to war. Oveta Culp Hobby became the founder of the WAC (Women's Army Corps). In May, 1942 there was one WAC; Colonel Hobby. When she left in 1945 nearly 100,000 women served their country in jobs from riveter to chemist all over the world.

Upon returning to her Houston home, Hobby jumped right back into her work. She helped her husband run the Houston Post, and she became politically active. She was a clear factor in the Presidential election of 1952. She accepted President Dwight Eisenhower's offer to serve in his Cabinet. She was the second woman in the United States to serve on a Cabinet, becoming the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

Is this not enough? No, when Hobby again returned to Houston she took the reins of the newspaper, radio and TV empire of the Hobby family as Governor Hobby became more and more private. Later, one of the wealthiest women in the country, she disposed of these assets and then turned her attention and still considerable energy into sharing the fruits of her hard work with the city and state she loved.

These are the highlights. Winegarten offers the full story in her appealing and anecdote-ladened account for young adult readers. I am delighted and not a little bit amazed at the number of intriguing details she works into the relatively short volume. Two more big pluses are the detailed timeline and the many internet links. The link to YouTube clips of Hobby are outstanding. The reader meets the real woman—here and now.

This real woman is an excellent example for twenty-first century young people. She saw herself as a capable and able person, as quotations in Winegarten's chapter headings indicate: "My father taught me that I could turn the world around as well as any of my brothers"; "It annoys me a little that people pull back and say, 'Well, a woman did that.' Why not a woman?"

One caveat. Oveta was a woman of her century, not ours. As another chapter heading points out: "Everything that ever happened to me fell in my lap, nothing in my life would have been possible without Governor [Gov. Hobby, her husband]."

I don't think so.

The author/coauthor of four books, Texan Debra Winegarten lives in Austin. She teaches university sociology when she is not writing. Visit her website.

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