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First Director of the WAAC/WAC

Oveta Culp Hobby
Director, WAAC/WAC

President Franklin Roosevelt had barely finished signing a bill authorizing the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), when he swore in Oveta Culp Hobby as the first director of the Corps. Working in Washington, DC, as the chief of the Women’s Interest Section in the Public Relations Bureau at the War Department, Hobby had helped move the WAAC bill through bitterly contentious debate in Congress. She was not only highly qualified to serve as Director, but a “safe” choice to negotiate political and social resistance to the formation of the WAAC.

An experienced business executive and former editor of the Houston Post, Hobby was the mother of two children, the wife of former Texas Governor William Hobby and active in national and local political scenes. She was also feminine, dignified and charismatic— a woman who could inspire other women to join the Army and whose demeanor would counteract skepticism, fear and negative stereotypes concerning women in the military.

Hobby, granted the rank of colonel, addressed the first women’s officer candidate class at Ft. Des Moines, IA, with words that would ring through the history of women’s military service.“You are the first women to serve. … Never forget it. … You have a debt and a date,” she told them. “A debt to democracy, a date with destiny.”

In 1943 the Army asked Congress for the authority to convert the WAAC into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), which would be part of the Army itself rather than merely serving with it. The WAC bill was signed into law on July 3, 1943.

COL Hobby shepherded the WAAC and the WAC through three years of overwhelming, exponential growth. By 1945, WACs had served around the world, filling 239 kinds of jobs.

The first woman to receive the Distinguished Service Medal on her retirement in 1945, her citation read in part, “without guidance or precedents in the United States military history to assist her, Colonel Hobby established sound policies and planned and supervised the selection and training of officers and regulations. Her contribution to the war effort of the nation has been of important significance.”

After the war, COL Hobby returned to executive positions in radio, television and newspaper publishing; served on the boards of prominent national public and private organizations; and remained active in politics and government work. In 1953, she became the first secretary of the newly-created cabinet-level Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She was 90 years old when she passed away in 1995.