After establishing himself as a pioneer in the news media industry in Texas, Will Hobby served as Lt. Gov. of Texas from 1915 until September 1917, when he became Governor. He led Texas’ effort to support the American military during World War I, and he had to resolve significant political and social issues that swept the state and the nation, including lawlessness and corruption on the state’s southern border, and heated battles over prohibition and women’s suffrage. Will signed the bill giving women the right to vote in primary elections, and he subsequently played a role in the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
During World War II Oveta took her place on the national stage as the celebrated founding commander of the Women’s Army Corps. In recognition of her extremely difficult but outstanding performance during the war, she received the Distinguished Service Medal, the first woman so honored. In 1953, Oveta became only the second woman in U. S. history to serve on a presidential cabinet when Eisenhower appointed her as the Secretary of the newly established Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. While head of the HEW, Oveta directed the effort to expand the number of Americans covered by Social Security, and she oversaw the development and controversial distribution of the Salk polio vaccine.
The “Hobby Team” of Will and Oveta quickly forged an intimate personal and professional relationship leading to the establishment of an influential media business that eventually included ownership of the Houston Post and Houston’s pioneering KPRC Radio and KPRC TV.
On this episode, we interview Don Carleton, the Briscoe Center’s executive director. Don joins us to discuss his most recent book, a dual biography of Will and Oveta Hobby, The Governor and the Colonel.
- Don CarletonFounding Director of The University of Texas at Austin's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
- Erin PurdyDirector of Communications, The University of Texas at Austin’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
[00:00:00] Erin Purdy:
[00:00:00] This is American Rhapsody, a podcast of the Briscoe Center for
American History at the University of Texas at Austin. American history is
many things, but it is most certainly a rhapsody quilted together from the ragged
patches of many disjointed stories, and yet somehow managing to form a
coherent whole. I’m Erin Purdy, director of communications for the Briscoe
Center, a repository for the raw materials of the past, the evidence of history
that we collect, preserve, and make available for use.
[00:00:41] On each episode, we talk to the individuals who helped create that
evidence, to the donors who preserved it, and to the researchers who use those
collections in their work, and we keep the American Rhapsody going. On this
episode, I interviewed Don Carleton, the Briscoe Center’s executive director.
Don joins us to discuss his most recent book, The Governor and the Colonel.
The book published by the Briscoe Center and distributed by the University of
Texas Press is a dual biography of Will and Oveta Hobby. Will Hobby was a
pioneer of the news media industry in Texas, as publisher and editor of the
Beaumont Enterprise, and later the Houston Post. Will served as lieutenant
governor of Texas from 1915 until September 1917, when he became governor.
[00:01:25] He led Texas’s effort to support the American military during World
War I, when the state became the training ground for tens of thousands of
soldiers. He also had to resolve significant political and social issues that swept
the state and the nation, including lawlessness and corruption on the state’s
southern border and heated battles over prohibition and women’s suffrage.
[00:01:47] Will signed the bill giving women the right to vote in primary
elections, and he subsequently played a role in the ratification of the Nineteenth
Amendment to the US Constitution. He left office in January 1921. In 1931
Will married Oveta Culp, the twenty-four-year-old daughter of a former
member of the Texas legislature. By the time of their marriage, she was well-
known in local and state political and civic affairs.
[00:02:14] The Hobby team of Will and Oveta quickly forged an intimate,
personal, and professional relationship. During World War II. Oveta took her
place on the national stage as the celebrated founding commander of the
Women’s Army Corps. In recognition of her extremely difficult but outstanding
first woman so honored.
[00:02:37] In 1953, Oveta became only the second woman in US history to
serve on a presidential cabinet when Eisenhower appointed her as the Secretary
of the newly established Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. While
head of the HEW Oveta directed the effort to expand the number of Americans
covered by Social Security, and she oversaw the development and [00:03:00]
controversial distribution of the Salk polio vaccine.
[00:03:04] The marriage of Will and Oveta led to the establishment of an
influential media business that eventually included ownership of the Houston
Post and Houston’s pioneering KPRC radio and KPRC TV. And, linked
together through shared knowledge of and devotion to public service and
journalism, the Hobbys would play an essential role in the transformation of
Houston into the fourth-largest city in the United States.
[00:03:30] Don Carleton is certainly no stranger to the history of Texas or the
city of Houston. Prior to the creation of the Briscoe Center, he started as
founding director of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and Urban
History Archive. He has served as director of the Briscoe Center at UT Austin
for more than forty years.
[00:03:48] Don is the author of twelve books, including Red Scare, A Breed So
Rare, and Conversations with Cronkite. He is also the executive producer of
two PBS documentaries. When I Rise and Cactus Jack: Lone Star on Capitol
Hill. In our conversation, Don shares insights into his extensive research and
writing of The Governor and the Colonel. In his three years of research for the
book, he consulted collections at twenty-two different archival institutions, oral
histories with thirty people and nearly four hundred books and articles.
[00:04:20] Dan Rather has called the book “Biography at its best . . . an epic of
romance, power and politics told with broad historical sweep.” Let’s hear from
Don on how the book came to be, his decision to shape the book as a dual
biography, and why Will and Oveta were such important figures in Texas and
[00:04:56] So, Don, welcome to American Rhapsody. This is your first time
[00:05:00] as a guest of the show. You usually are here as the executive director
and the primary narrator for our American Rhapsody podcast series. But today
we’re here to talk to you as a historian and more specifically to talk to you about
the recent book, The Governor and the Colonel.
between the subject of The Governor and the Colonel, the Hobby family, and
your earliest work as a historian. Can you share how your research into the
history of the red scare at the local level was tied to the Hobby family?
[00:05:37] Don Carleton: Sure.
[00:05:37] You know, when I started that book on the red scare, really the
purpose of that book was to examine the impact of McCarthyism and that whole
anticommunist hysteria that was prevalent in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I
wanted to see what impact it had on what I call “main street,” that is the local
level in the United States.
[00:06:04] And so I chose Houston to be my case study, which was an obvious
thing for me to do because I was living in Houston at the time. And so, when I
was doing research on the red scare in Houston, which ultimately was published
as a book with the title of Red Scare, one of the things that I uncovered, not that
it was hidden exactly, was the role of the local daily newspapers in Houston in
encouraging and really revving up the anticommunist hysteria in that city,
[00:06:47] particularly during the period after 1948. So, I started reading all the
editorials. I had a full run of the three main papers in Houston. One was the
[00:07:00] Houston Press, which was a Scripps-Howard newspaper, the
Houston Chronicle, which was owned by Jesse Jones, who had been in FDR’s
[00:07:09] and the third was the Houston Post, which was owned by a dynamic
couple, William P. Hobby Sr. and Oveta Culp Hobby. This was the first time
that I really studied some of the things they were doing in publishing with any
depth. So, I started that work. You know, it’s hard to imagine now, but it was
fifty years ago, literally.
[00:07:39] Erin Purdy: And that was initially research for your dissertation
when you were at the University of Houston, correct?
[00:07:42] Don Carleton: That’s correct. Yes, it was a dissertation that I later
broadened considerably and revised a whole lot and published as a book, but
that was my first, certainly my first scholarly connection to the story of the
Hobby family. [00:08:00] So my work in one way or another often over the
years has come back and forth with the Hobbys.
but that’s how I got started.
[00:08:13] Erin Purdy: The writing of this book in some ways is closing a big
circle for you.
[00:08:17] Don Carleton: Absolutely. The interesting thing about it is that the
family’s story, particularly William P. Hobby Sr., and his wife Oveta Culp
Hobby, and their son William P. Hobby Jr., who is known more widely as Bill
Hobby, but as I have worked over the years on various projects, one way or
another, the Hobby story became connected to some of the other things I was
A good example is I edited and annotated a memoir of a former governor of
Texas by the name of Ross Sterling, who is one of the founders of the Humble
Oil Company, which was a predecessor of [00:09:00] today’s Exxon Oil
[00:09:02] Ross Sterling was extremely important in the career of William P.
Hobby Sr. If you don’t mind, I’m going to refer to William P. Hobby Sr. from
this point on, Erin, as Will. So, at any rate, I edited that memoir of Ross
Sterling, and William P. Hobby is all over that story, which I cover in this
[00:09:26] There’s been those instances where I’ve run into their story while I
was doing other subjects.
[00:09:31] Erin Purdy: You’ve also authored a number of other books as a
historian, or “as-told-to” books that have ties to the Hobby family. For example,
your work with the J. R. Parten biography.
[00:09:43] Don Carleton: Right. He talks about Oveta Culp Hobby.
[00:09:46] He knew her and William P. Hobby. It’s not a central part of that
story or that biography, but yes, we do deal a little bit with them with the
[00:09:56] Erin Purdy: So, Don, when it came to writing the history of the
Hobbys, what was behind your decision to make it a Briscoe Center–sponsored
what the Briscoe Center is about.
[00:10:10] Not only do we have these massive historical archives of original
papers and documents, as well as our book library and so forth, but we make all
of those things available to the public and to our students and faculty for
research and study. But the Briscoe Center is also called a research center
because we do our own research projects and we disseminate the results of
those projects through documentary films, exhibits, lectures, different programs,
but also books. Because we have the William P. Hobby Sr., Governor Hobby’s
papers as well as the papers of his son, Bill Hobby, and a number of other
papers that relate in some important way to [00:11:00] William P. Hobby Sr.
and others. Again, let me call him Will, to Will Sr. and to Oveta Culp Hobby. It
seemed like a natural project to do because I can base so much of this on the
holdings here at the center. So that’s the reason that we made it a Briscoe Center
[00:11:22] Erin Purdy: In fact, another project that the Briscoe Center
produced was Bill Hobby’s memoir, How Things Really Work, that was back in
2010. I think it’s also important for you to share with us why you felt that the
stories of Will and Oveta needed to be told in the form of a dual biography.
What was your thinking, and how did you feel that that filled a void in the
[00:11:46] Don Carleton: Well, I could have done just a single biography of
Will Hobby as the former governor of Texas. But as I studied his life, I realized,
first of all, that there has been very little [00:12:00] done about him. He was a
very important figure in Texas history. He was a pioneer in the news media
industry, a newspaper publisher, and so forth.
[00:12:10] And he was involved in one of the first radio stations here in Texas.
But the more I studied, I not only realized that there was not much published
about him, but also that his wife, his second wife I should add, his first wife
died unexpectedly after he was governor. But after Will Hobby married Oveta
Culp Hobby, it became clear that you couldn’t tell his story without also telling
hers. She outlived him.
[00:12:41] She was much younger than Will Hobby. And so they had a story,
really, that overlapped in so many important ways for a good portion of both of
their lives, but they also had their own story that preceded the marriage and the
story that came after his death. [00:13:00] I just thought it was important to tell
this story as a dual biography, because they really did have a true partnership.
or anything else without consulting the other. So it was important to really
combine their story.
[00:13:22] Erin Purdy: I think there’s also some sense of Will’s early success,
not just as a newspaper man, but as a politician that really helped propel Oveta
and her later success on a national level.
[00:13:36] Don Carleton: Oh yeah, that’s true. You know, I agree with that.
And that’s another reason why I wanted to do a dual biography because Will’s
success, his ability as a newspaper publisher, he was publisher of the Houston
Post, really gave her a platform and a place to kind of launch her career. But I
want to emphasize that from studying Oveta Culp Hobby as a [00:14:00]
personality and her story, I don’t have any doubt that she would have also
eventually in some other ways become a well-known citizen, but yes, I mean,
there’s no doubt that the way things turned out, her marriage to Will was a
major launching point for her.
[00:14:19] Erin Purdy: Then as you discussed just her own extraordinary
capabilities, she helped expand his circle of influence and helped keep things
like the Post and the radio stations and television stations, just really successful.
[00:14:33] Don Carleton: Yes, that’s correct. She continued, he died in 1964
and she lived until she was in her nineties and she died in 1995. So she outlived
him thirty-one years. And during most of that time, she continued developing
the Houston Post and their television properties and staying very active in
[00:14:56] Erin Purdy: Let’s talk a little bit more in depth about some of the
sources that you used in your [00:15:00] research. You mentioned other
collections at the Briscoe Center. What were some of the collections here that
were used and where there any surprises that you found in our collections to
help you with this book?
[00:15:09] Don Carleton: There has been one book published that is called
Tactful Texan. That’s really kind of an as-told-to autobiography of Will Hobby
that was published in the late 1950s. It was very useful to me. It’s almost like an
oral history because I know that he practically dictated that book to an author.
That’s the only thing really available about his life and career.
[00:15:33] And it’s not that adequate. And in fact it’s pretty much inadequate,
although it does have some great stuff in it that I used. As I got into this, I was
governor before Will Hobby became governor and Colquitt was very important
to Hobby’s career and they were [00:16:00] political allies.
[00:16:00] Well, that’s just a good example of some of the richness here in our
collections, because I was only dimly aware of how important the Oscar
Colquitt papers were until I got into this and realized the strong connection with
Will Hobby. We have the papers of a man named Will Hogg, H O G G and Will
Hogg was the son of another Governor James Stephen Hogg. Will Hogg’s
papers are very valuable to help understand some of Hobby’s story as well.
There are several others as well, but I could just name those two as good
[00:16:39] Erin Purdy: I think it would be helpful to know, obviously, while
we champion the Briscoe Center collections, for you to accomplish a biography
of this scope and academic importance, you used other sources as well.
[00:16:51] So where else did you go?
[00:16:53] Don Carleton: I did some traveling. I would use resources or should
say papers and other materials. I think it was [00:17:00] something like twenty
different archives and just dozens of collections, several collections in different
archives. Because Oveta Culp Hobby became a national figure and she was
involved in national politics, particularly with Dwight Eisenhower, President
Eisenhower, I used collections from five different presidential libraries.
[00:17:21] Beginning with Herbert Hoover’s and going all the way through to
Lyndon Johnson with the exception of John F. Kennedy’s papers, because
Oveta Culp Hobby had really no relationship with the Kennedy administration
to speak of, I was able to really find an enormously valuable amount of material
from those five presidential libraries. I also used the resources that are available
there at the Rockefeller brothers archive, which is in Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow,
New York up on the Hudson because Nelson Rockefeller also [00:18:00] played
a role in Oveta Culp Hobby’s career.
[00:18:02] He was the deputy secretary of HEW when Oveta Culp Hobby was
the secretary of HEW and they had an interesting relationship as well. And so I
did find some great stuff in the Nelson Rockefeller’s papers in New York. And
then of course, Oveta Culp Hobby herself has important collections of papers in
three different archives.
where the largest body of her papers are located, but also at the Library of
Congress and at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. All of her work as a
cabinet member in the Eisenhower cabinet is of course documented there in the
Eisenhower library. The Library of Congress houses her papers documenting
the time when she was the founding commander [00:19:00] of the Women’s
[00:19:02] All of her Women’s Army Corps papers are at the Library of
Congress. So, there are a number of other places that I was able to use. But I
had to chase around to a lot of locations to do this research.
[00:19:16] Erin Purdy: I think it speaks to the importance of both Will and
Oveta and the issues that they dealt with in their lives, which really are
incredibly important issues for American history.
[00:19:28] Let’s talk through some of the things that you discovered as you
were doing this research that are particularly compelling. I think one of the
earliest stories that you tell that is incredibly important in terms of Texas history
is the story of the Peach Tree Village network. Talk a little bit about why that
Peach Tree Village network was so interesting or compelling to you as a
[00:19:55] Don Carleton: Will Hobby’s father, Edwin Hobby, was an attorney
and he [00:20:00] himself became a state senator and later a judge here in Texas
in the nineteenth century. Will Hobby was born in 1878, but Will Hobby’s
father Edwin Hobby started out as an attorney in this little crossroads, a little
village called Peach Tree. Peach Tree Village in East Texas, what we call deep
East Texas here.
This little village produced some remarkable people. I mean, there’s just a
handful of people living there, but one of them was the family of Ross Sterling,
who I’ve already mentioned is an extremely important person in Will Hobby’s
later life. But Ross Sterling’s family was there in this little village.
[00:20:45] Now let me add, by the way, that Will himself was not born in Peach
Tree, he was born in a little town called Moscow, Texas, which is in Polk, P O
L K, Polk County, Texas. But his [00:21:00] family had very strong links to
these people, these few people in Peach Tree Village. So they had this
incredible network. It also included a man named John Henry Kirby.
wealthiest person in Texas, and he grew up in Peach Tree Village. And another
man who grew up in Peach Tree Village was Samuel Bronson Cooper, and
Samuel Bronson Cooper’s family were very close friends with John Henry
Kirby’s, with Ross Sterling’s family, and with Will Hobby’s family, and Cooper
became a very influential and important congressman, US congressman for East
[00:21:44] You know, there weren’t very many more people in that village than
the ones I just mentioned, and they all play very important roles in Will
Hobby’s life. And so I just find it interesting. I don’t think it’s [00:22:00] a
unique situation. I think that American history, world history actually, is full of
stories of how important these family networks are in terms of developing the
important people, and Will Hobby was an example of that.
He came out of this network that I call the Peach Tree Village network, which I
found fascinating. I had no clue, no idea that that existed, but the other thing
about Will Hobby that I didn’t know about was that he became the editor of the
Beaumont Enterprise. In fact, he owned the Beaumont Enterprise at one point,
of course, the main newspaper in the town of Beaumont, Texas, and Southeast
Texas. Another thing important about Will Hobby’s career is that he really
embodies the whole idea of newspapers, really, serving as tools for town
promotion, civic boosterism, and developing entrepreneurship in these
[00:23:00] cities as editor and publisher of the Beaumont Enterprise. He played
a vital and key role in lobbying Congress and the state legislature to turn
Beaumont into a deep-water port. He and some others helped secure the federal
funding to dredge the river there at Beaumont to connect it to the Gulf of
[00:23:23] But it’s an interesting illustration of the role that these town
newspapers, the city newspapers, the urban press, I should say, played in the
development of the cities that they were conducting their business in.
[00:23:38] Erin Purdy: So, as we look at Will’s role as the editor of the
Beaumont Enterprise in his boosterism and making Beaumont a port city, we’re
also seeing him sit on the edge of a major transition in the state of Texas, which
is a move from a rural state to more of an urban state.
[00:23:57] Don Carleton: Well, that’s correct. And Beaumont is where
[00:24:00] the revolution of petroleum transformed the world. It was the
Spindletop well that really ushered the world into the modern petroleum era.
the newspaper when they discovered oil in Beaumont, but it was just a few
[00:24:22] And so that story was very much an important part of what role he
played in boosting that city. So, the discovery of oil really made Beaumont. And
I think that really, that Spindletop well in Beaumont symbolized that
transformation of the Texas economy from this agricultural economy to more of
an industrial economy with the petroleum.
[00:24:53] And he was there in the center of the action, so to speak. And that’s
also the case when he later became governor. [00:25:00] In the years he was
governor in 1917, through 1920. He left office in January 1921. Uh, on his own
accord, by the way, he wasn’t defeated. Those years he was governor also were
sort of a major transitional period for Texas, economically, socially, politically,
a very important period.
[00:25:22] Erin Purdy: Well let’s talk a little bit more about some of the things
that he dealt with as governor. And I think in some ways his legacy as governor
is really not well known. And there’s some pretty major things that he brokered
or was involved with. We know him as the wartime governor, of course,
because he was governor during World War I.
[00:25:38] Don Carleton: Yeah. And that’s important, Erin, because World
War I is really this larger world event that had such a major impact all over the
place, even in Texas. Texas was a place where the US military built a large
number of [00:26:00] bases. And so many thousands of American troops were
trained here in Texas during World War I.
[00:26:06] And of course Texas supplied oil to help fuel the military effort of
the United States during World War I while he’s governor during this period of
time. He saw his chief duty as governor, as the wartime governor, was to do all
that he could to support the American war effort. And he was very successful
with that and helping and working with the war department
[00:26:33] by getting these bases built and a number of other things. It was not
just World War I, as important as it was in the transition of Texas into a
different kind of economy and political and social structure, but he was the
governor who presided over two really important changes. One of them is still
of course, with us today, obviously, [00:27:00] but let me mention what those
years before he became governor by the whole issue of the prohibition of
alcohol, that issue’s swaying back and forth and back and forth. Well it was
while he was governor that that issue was finally resolved. And he was also the
governor who signed the prohibition law here in Texas and just supported
[00:27:32] Although, just as an interesting little aside, he himself personally did
not believe in prohibition—as I often say, he didn’t practice it at all privately.
But he saw it as something that was going to continue to dominate the political
situation in Texas and really get in the way of progress. And so he was more . . .
it was almost like a practical thing.
[00:27:57] So prohibition was passed. [00:28:00] Of course it would later be
overturned, but he was the prohibition governor. The other far more important
thing was that he is the person as governor who supported women’s suffrage.
He signed the first really meaningful women’s suffrage bill in Texas, and he
was very proud of that accomplishment.
[00:28:21] He, like most men, had to be kind of pulled along, in this case by his
wife, to really understand the importance of women’s suffrage, but he came
around and he did, he did propose it. I mean, he did promote it and supported it.
Not only did he sign the women’s suffrage bill in Texas, but as the United
States was moving toward an amendment to the Constitution, making it a
federal law that a women could vote,
[00:28:49] he actually went to two or three states like Oklahoma and Tennessee,
and I believe Arkansas, and addressed the state legislatures there, urging them
to [00:29:00] pass the amendment to the federal Constitution. That’s another
very important part of his legacy.
[00:29:06] Erin Purdy: And these are, we should also point out, that these are
both national issues.
[00:29:10] Obviously we’ve just shown how he moved the needle on suffrage
beyond Texas, but the issues he was dealing with were really larger historical
issues. And I think it’s interesting to reflect on how Texas was affected by these
things and how he as a governor handled those issues. So we could get into a lot
more detail on both of those, but I think it might be interesting for you to talk
about some of the other things that were part of his being governor that maybe
weren’t quite as positive.
[00:29:44] Don Carleton: Yes. Well, I guess, you know, it’s like anything else
and historians are no different from anyone else in this respect. How you
evaluate and judge and make judgments about these things are dependent, really
are contingent on your own views of the world [00:30:00] and the way you feel
[00:30:02] For example, if you’re a liberal Democrat or liberal period and pro-
union, one of the things that you would criticize Will Hobby for is that, while he
was governor of Texas, he broke a major strike. He ended a major strike with
armed troops, with the national guard, the Texas national guard.
[00:30:24] He ended a strike in Galveston at the Galveston wharfs and put that
down, essentially. He was anti-union. So, if you are pro-union, you would see
that as one of Will Hobby’s negatives. If you are anti-union, you would think
that was quite an accomplishment. So, it’s all according to your perspective,
that’s one thing. The other, however, as you know, particularly at the heart of
the things that we are dealing with even today, unfortunately, and that is the
issue of how the [00:31:00] United States has treated its African American
citizens and the whole issue of race and the role that race plays in this country’s
[00:31:11] He was not pro-civil rights. The whole movement to improve the lot
of African American citizens in the United States wasn’t even referred to as
civil rights at the time, I don’t believe, but nonetheless. He did have racial
prejudice and that came out when he was governor. He did not support equal
rights and, in fact, opposed it. He did grow as he aged. But I think that he
probably never really gave up his, really his sort of prejudiced view of his
fellow African American citizens. So he was not a governor who in any way
pushed forward or helped the cause of African Americans. He wasn’t a
[00:32:00] primitive. I mean, he absolutely opposed the Ku Klux Klan.
[00:32:05] And he also did not approve extralegal proceedings and especially
murder that was represented by the lynchings that occurred in this state while he
was governor. In fact, he sent the Texas Rangers to several places to try to
prevent lynching. So that was abhorrent to him, the lawlessness, the cruelty, and
so forth, but just on a daily basis, I do believe he believed, well, I know he
believed in racial segregation, so that’s a negative too.
wartime governor is what has become known as the Hobby Act. And that’s
something that you talk about.
[00:32:49] Don Carleton: That’s a good point, too. Yes, if you are a civil
libertarian, you would not be happy with his record during World War I,
basically suppressing freedom [00:33:00] of speech and civil liberties.
[00:33:02] Now this sounds like we’ve got a draconian person as governor. I
think this has to be, and I try to do this in the book, obviously, this has to be put
in context, not to in any way, forgive the suppression of freedom of speech,
freedom of the press, freedom of association, but it was during World War I and
the entire nation was swept away with this whole anti-civil liberties
environment. Anything that hinted to being pro-German, it was suppressed.
Anyone who dare to say anything critical of the US war effort was put in jail,
literally. And I mean, there were laws against speaking out. And so, the state of
Texas, like many states in this country passed their own laws that were really
called Loyalty Acts.
[00:33:56] And this one in Texas got the name, The Hobby [00:34:00] Loyalty
Act. And it was a hyper-patriotic thing that supposedly, it was supposed to be,
helping the US war effort. It’s a dark episode. Not only in Will Hobby’s story as
governor, but really for the entire country.
[00:34:19] Erin Purdy: I think to me, what is fascinating about reading the
stories of Will and of Oveta is just the degree to which this is not a parochial
[00:34:30] This is a national story. And not just in terms of their own actions,
but how their lives and everything that they lived through were tied to these
broader and more, more universal American stories.
[00:34:43] Don Carleton: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I
was so interested in doing this, because even though Will Hobby is little known
outside the state of Texas, in fact, unfortunately he’s little known within the
state of Texas, which is another reason why any historian wants to take on a
subject is to educate the public, about people they should know about. Will
Hobby as governor and the issues he dealt with did have national ramifications.
I mean, women’s suffrage is a good example, but of course his wife, his second
wife, Oveta Culp Hobby, is really where the national connections really come
roaring into this story.
[00:35:28] Don Carleton: Oveta Culp Hobby. Now she was thirty-something
years younger than her husband. By the time she was twenty, she was well-
known in the state. She was a parliamentarian of the Texas House of
Representatives before she could even vote legally. So, she was an up-and-
coming figure when she married the former governor Will Hobby.
[00:35:50] And interestingly enough, although Oveta Culp Hobby in her life
was known as a conservative person, she was actually more liberal than,
[00:36:00] Will. I think it’s important to point out when you study their
relationship and when talking about this partnership, she had a major influence
over, and actually I think played a major role in developing more liberal views
about race in her husband Will Hobby.
[00:36:18] And so I just want to kind of differentiate when I talk about them
going step by step and being a true partnership, I just want to emphasize that
they also were individuals and had kind of a cross-fertilization with their
individuality. And that’s one way, she was more liberal than he was in race
relations and did have an influence over him there.
[00:36:41] But, yes, she was brought to enter the national limelight in 1941,
when she was invited by General George C. Marshall, who was the chief of
staff of the US Army to advise the army as a woman newspaper publisher,
[00:37:00] one of the few in the country. The army, George C. Marshall, asked
her to help them with a major problem that they had,
[00:37:07] and that was that the draft had just been imposed several months
before. And the army was literally under an avalanche of letters from mothers
and wives and sisters and girlfriends of some of these young men who had been
drafted into the army. This was the first peacetime draft, I think in American
[00:37:31] And it really upset a lot of people because technically we were not at
war yet. And so, the army didn’t know how to handle it. They didn’t know how
to handle all of these unruly women who were complaining about what they
were doing to their young men. So they asked Oveta to serve as an advisor on
how to respond to this.
[00:37:51] And she agreed. That’s really what got her—her start at the national
level was in helping the army explain [00:38:00] what they were doing with
these young men.
[00:38:04] Don Carleton: It was a public relations role, and she did such a
great job at that when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the US entered
World War II, General Marshall asked her to work with him on a project that he
had wanted to carry out a couple of years before, but it went nowhere.
[00:38:24] And that was to come up with a Women’s Army Corps to bring
women into the US Army to help in the war effort. And she agreed to do that.
And another person who helped persuade her to do that and supported her was
the first lady, Franklin Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who Oveta really
got to know back in 1936, when the Roosevelts toured Texas, including
[00:38:51] And so Eleanor Roosevelt became an ally of Oveta’s, as did General
Marshall. And so, she agreed to work [00:39:00] with them and a
congresswoman from Massachusetts by the name of Edith Nourse Rogers, who
submitted a bill to Congress to create a Women’s Army Corps. And she worked
on and lobbied Congress to get that bill passed.
[00:39:15] And when I say she, I should say, Oveta lobbied Congress. It was
Congresswoman Rogers’s bill, and the Congress passed the bill. And when it
allowed the creation of a Women’s Army Corps, the Congress insisted that it be
an auxiliary, that it not really be an actual legal part of the Army. When that was
passed, Oveta was asked to command it.
[00:39:40] And she agreed, so she was the first woman really, eventually, in the
US Army. And she played absolutely the key role in organizing what would
become later the Women’s Army Corps—a bill would later be passed that
would actually bring the Auxiliary Corps [00:40:00] into the regular army. And
when that was done, Oveta became a colonel in the US Army.
[00:40:07] Erin Purdy: Hence the title of the book… “and the Colonel.”
[00:40:09] Don Carleton: Exactly. We’ve got the governor, her husband, and
the colonel, his wife.
[00:40:15] Erin Purdy: We could talk at great length about Oveta’s service in
World War II. But the really striking thing was the degree to which she had to
fight internal battles. Her enemy, if there was one, was really just the overall
misogyny that was part of the military at that time.
the army, in fact, one of the chapters in my book is called “Battling the Army,”
or fighting the army, the brass, male, of course, they were all male. Oh, you’ve
got to remember Oveta was the only officer for a while who was a woman in the
[00:40:51] And she had to deal with all of these Neanderthal army brass, who
basically did not want women in the army. They didn’t [00:41:00] accept it.
And they had to put up with it because the commander in chief of the army,
George C. Marshall, it was one of his pet projects. She would not have been
able to get anything done if it hadn’t been for General Marshall, but they fought
her every step of the way.
[00:41:15] And, much of her story in building and organizing the Women’s
Army Corps was really battling her army colleagues who were against just
about everything. It was openly misogynistic. These army officers were quite
open about it. They didn’t accept women in the military, but it also came from
Congress, particularly from the southern delegation in Congress who never
accepted women in the military during this period of time.
[00:41:49] And they fought, really, against her nomination, against her, against
the creation of the Women’s Army Corps. And they bothered her the whole
time she was trying [00:42:00] to organize the Women’s Army Corps and
manage it. That was also misogynistic. I mean, members of the Congress, when
she would go testify at hearings of committees, the members of the southern
delegation unfailingly would make really ridiculous sexist remarks to her. They
asked her at one hearing, how can we let these women join the army? Who’s
going to cook and wash the clothes and clean the house. I mean, just purely
sexist. And there was another yahoo from South Carolina who was in the US
Senate who literally told her that if these women joined the army and left their
homes, that it would be the end of the United States.
[00:42:44] He didn’t say it would be the end of the civilization, but he implied
it. I mean, just crazy stuff like that. It was all very sexist. But the other thing
that probably disappointed her the most was the misogyny that she ran into with
her fellow journalists. [00:43:00] Men, not women, basically the columnists, but
just the regular reporters too.
[00:43:07] I mean, there was one example. They were constantly fixated on her
to write about, not her accomplishments, but how she was dressed. I mean, they even asked her at press conferences, what was the contents of her purse and that
sort of thing.
[00:43:28] And when the WACs had a training camp, an officer’s training camp
in Iowa at Fort Des Moines, and the Associated Press even asked her to pose in
a swimming suit on a diving board at the swimming pool that they had at the
training camp on a story about the WACs—the commander, in a swimsuit, on a
[00:43:50] And of course the army nipped that in the bud immediately, but
that’s the kind of stuff, you know, they were constantly writing about her hairdo
and, you know, that kind of thing.
[00:43:59] Erin Purdy: So you’re saying that they didn’t ask General Marshall
to do the same thing?
[00:44:04] Don Carleton: Yeah. Right. Exactly. Exactly. Well, they even had
an argument over whether they should be issuing bras to women in the Army
Corps, the army brass, the men thought that was ridiculous and that they didn’t
have to wear bras as long as they had proper posture and did enough exercise.
[00:44:24] She also had battled the army brass because they decided that they
would give any married woman who was in the Women’s Army Corps an
honorable discharge if she became pregnant. But any unmarried woman who
became pregnant while she was in the corps would be given a dishonorable
discharge. The army was calling the crime “pregnancy without permission.”
[00:44:51] And when that policy, the draft of that, came down to Oveta’s office,
she just hit the roof, and she went to war. [00:45:00] And she met with the
commanders who were involved in this particular decision, and she won. And
she did that because she pointed out to them that there was no civil or criminal
law either in the military or anywhere else that made pregnancy illegal.
[00:45:17] There was no such thing as an illegal pregnancy. And she fought that
and she finally asked the group that she was talking to, the commanders, if the
policy was going to be extended to the male soldiers? That any male soldier
who impregnated a woman not his wife would get a dishonorable discharge.
The policy was then tossed in the wastepaper basket.
[00:45:44] Erin Purdy: Well, we could go on and on about the various battles
that she fought also when she was Secretary of the HEW under Eisenhower,
that’s an entirely separate conversation. What I’d like to focus on though, are
well known or have been covered less by other historians.
[00:46:07] And one of those is the project that she worked on with the
Rockefeller brothers. You mentioned how rich a resource the Rockefeller
archives were for you. What was the project that she worked with them on in
the late fifties?
[00:46:19] Don Carleton: Well, that was an interesting project. It was also a
surprise. So one of the surprising things I learned in my research—she became
really close friends with Nelson Rockefeller when he was Deputy Secretary of
HEW, Health, Education, and Welfare.
[00:46:35] And when he left that post and after she left HEW, she was invited
by Nelson Rockefeller to be among a stellar group of elites and intellectuals and
scientists and foreign policy experts and a program that was called a Special
Studies Program of the Rockefeller Foundation. Not the big Rockefeller
[00:47:00] Foundation, the older one, but the brothers, the Rockefeller brothers,
had their own foundation and the special studies project was basically one of
those sort of things that was so common in the post–World War II period, where
a lot of important people got together and basically tried to list all the problems
of the world and then come up with solutions for them.
[00:47:24] And that’s pretty much what a special studies program was about,
but it’s important for a lot of reasons. One thing was some of the
recommendations that came out of it influenced the Kennedy administration,
John F. Kennedy’s presidency, but it also was a launching pad for the career of
Henry Kissinger, who Rockefeller brought in. He was a professor at Harvard at
this particular time, and he brought him in as the Director of Special Studies.
And as such, because Oveta was not just [00:48:00] a figurehead in this, she
actually was an active member of the studies groups. She interacted frequently
with Kissinger and she played a role in influencing some of the conclusions the
special studies group came up with.
So, it was important for a lot of reasons, but again, one of them was, it was the
launching pad for Henry Kissinger’s future career.
[00:48:25] Erin Purdy: I think it’s also interesting to look at what this whole
study was about and how Oveta was involved in this. It was like a think tank
really, of some of the brightest minds in the country trying to solve major
problems for the United States, correct?
actually bestsellers. They’re long forgotten now because they were very, they’re
very dated. Like many problems they dealt with, they came up with
recommendations for problems we’re still dealing with today. They were
largely focused on foreign affairs and foreign policy of the United [00:49:00]
States because this was the height of the Cold War, but they had other things
they were focused on.
[00:49:05] A good example of Oveta’s role on one of the committees was the
studying of agricultural policy in the United States for the 1950s and what the
future ought to be. A draft of their proposal was sent to Oveta to critique and the
proposal basically was arguing that the federal government should provide
funds to encourage small farmers to give up their farms because agribusiness
was more efficient and it would be taking over agriculture. And so the federal
government should come up with a program to pay for these small farms and to
move all of these small farmers and their families to the city and find jobs for
them in the city. Oveta read this report and these recommendations, and she
contacted Henry Kissinger and said, [00:50:00] ah, no, no, no, this, this won’t
[00:50:02] How different is this from the collective farms in the Soviet Union?
Where small farmers were moved off of their farms and put on the big farms or
what we call collective farms owned by the Soviet government And so here we
are in a Cold War and we’re making proposals that smack of Communism?
Kissinger, in the final correspondence between them, backed off immediately.
[00:50:29] You’re absolutely right. That’s just one example of her influence in
that whole project.
[00:50:36] Erin Purdy: Yeah. I also know that as you were moving through the
research process and you were looking at Oveta’s various relationships with
important figures, one that really jumped out was her relationship with LBJ,
with President Johnson.
[00:50:52] And of course they had a very longstanding relationship, but I’m
particularly interested in how you would characterize their relationship,
[00:51:00] especially when he was president.
[00:51:02] Don Carleton: Well, it was just very warm and friendly. I mean,
you know, her relationship with LBJ really stemmed from Will’s relationship
with LBJ’s father.
Legislature and was one of Will Hobby’s allies in the legislature when Will was
governor. So the families, the Johnson family, and the Hobby family go, you
know, went way back to World War I, and then when the young Lyndon
Johnson decided to run for Congress the first time, he made a beeline to
Houston to get the endorsement of the Hobbys, because the Houston Post was
the Hobbys’ paper and was extremely influential politically. And so they
renewed their friendship with the young Lyndon and that’s where Oveta and
Lyndon met. And when Johnson was trying to get their support in the 1930s,
when he first ran for Congress. Then [00:52:00] Johnson was in Congress when
Oveta was head of the WACs.
[00:52:03] And so they socialized and were mutually supportive. And the same
thing, Johnson was, at one point, minority leader of the Senate and another point
majority leader of the Senate when Oveta was Secretary of HEW. In fact,
Lyndon Johnson was the person who took her to her nomination committee
hearing and introduced her to his fellow senators.
[00:52:27] So they had this long, warm relationship and after Will Hobby died
—and, by the way, Lyndon Johnson visited Will quite frequently before his
death, and Will was kind of a mentor in some ways to LBJ—but after Will died
and LBJ was president and Will died in 1964. And Johnson was president by
that time, a year after the Kennedy assassination.
[00:52:52] And so Johnson really tried to bring Oveta into his administration
and she [00:53:00] really wasn’t ready for another federal appointment, full-
time appointment. So Johnson talked her into taking on several task forces in
the Johnson administration. One of them was to go to Vietnam during the war,
which she did. She went with John Gardner and they were sent over there by
LBJ with another group of specialists to see if LBJ wanted to take the Great
Society to South Vietnam
[00:53:27] as part of the war against the communists. So she went over to South
Vietnam and toured South Vietnam and participated in a report on that. She was
on a task force to study the selective service, the situation with the draft, which
was very controversial during the Vietnam War, but, in fact, the most important,
long-lasting contribution Oveta made to the Johnson administration was the role
that she played on a task force that led to the creation of the Corporation for
Public [00:54:00] Broadcasting, which created PBS and NPR.
very close and warm relationship, and she spent the night at the White House
many times, and she and Lady Bird were very close friends as well.
[00:54:16] Erin Purdy: One of the sources that was really important as you
were delving into the relationship between LBJ and Oveta were the telephone
recordings during LBJ’s presidency. So how did those recordings demonstrate
the nature of their relationship?
[00:54:33] Don Carleton: Well, LBJ recorded all of his telephone calls,
certainly most of them, if not all, I mean, had them recorded. And he was
thinking about the history, the importance these calls would be to history, but
they were supposed to be closed for many, many years and thankfully Lady
Bird Johnson, a few years after her husband died, agreed to lift those
[00:54:56] And thankfully the recordings and the [00:55:00] transcripts—there
are transcripts as well—are available now. I mined those recordings, and it was
really fun just sitting and listening to Oveta and President Johnson, just talking
on the telephone. I’m certain Oveta thought that they were confidential and they
weren’t being recorded.
[00:55:19] In fact, I’m sure everyone who spoke to Johnson thought the same
thing. But it was a great insight listening to those two work each other. They
had a really close and warm relationship, but also, Oveta very much wanted to
still be in the action, nationally, and with the government and public policy.
And Johnson very much wanted this woman, who was one of the most
influential women in the United States at that time, and was the owner of a
major newspaper and television radio station.
[00:55:54] So they had mutual interests. Let’s put it that way. I guess a mutual
[00:56:00] self-interest would be a better way of putting it. But there’s no
question listening to them talk they enjoyed each other very much. And of
course, Lyndon Johnson, listening to these telephone calls. And this is true with
many of the telephone calls that he had with other people.
[00:56:13] And he’s just an amazing guy. It was just appealing to and flattering
the people he’s talking to. And he was very flattering to Oveta, and she would
giggle. She was a pretty formidable personality that you didn’t see giggle in
public. And so, it was fun listening to her giggle at Johnson’s flattery of her.
showed a different side of Oveta to me. That sort of private side that was shut
out for me because I was basing my knowledge of Oveta on her papers and
records and this sort of thing. And, of course, that is not a good way to really get
a full understanding of [00:57:00] somebody’s private personality.
[00:57:01] So they, it was a real gold mine for me.
[00:57:04] Erin Purdy: I think it’s also a great example of how a new treasure
trove of source material, like those recordings, can really illuminate for a
historian, a person’s personality.
[00:57:15] Don Carleton: But, yes, they were supposed to be closed for many,
many, many years, but that’s a good example of when historians talk about
history and the research that we do in history and in the findings that we come
up with and put in books, a good historian always knows that their history,
whatever history they’ve done is not definitive.
[00:57:34] And it’s not the last word. And this is a good example. If I had done
this book before those interviews have been made public, there’s a whole side
of a really, to be honest with you, a side of Oveta that I would have missed. And
I wouldn’t really have understood that relationship with President Johnson.
[00:57:53] That’s how revealing those recorded interviews were. But that’s a
good example. Someone then [00:58:00] could, after I wrote this book about
Will and Oveta Hobby, someone could come behind me and have access to
those tapes that I wouldn’t have had access to and had a different book in some
ways than what I’ve produced.
[00:58:14] So our view of history is always changing for a lot of reasons,
perspective, for example, but also because we’re always uncovering new
sources that aren’t available to the historians when they’re working at a
[00:58:32] Erin Purdy: I think that’s also a good reminder of why the Briscoe
Center does what it does in terms of preserving these resources and then making
[00:58:40] It’s a way to continually re-examine the past and look at how these,
what were, you know, we can agree on facts, let’s say, but these interpretations
do change over time.
what our business is basically, [00:59:00] is to keep growing our collections
because of this very thing we’re talking about, because our view of history
[00:59:07] The more sources that we have, we continually seek to add more
material and collections to our holdings because that’s how we continue to
make history live is to bring in these new collections. And give not only
ourselves, but other historians and students and teachers who use our resources,
fresh information that can change a whole viewpoint.
[00:59:37] Erin Purdy: Well, Don, I want to say thank you for sitting on the
other side of the microphone this time and being our guest here on American
Rhapsody. I do want to point out that your work with the Hobby family
continues. Do you have another book that is in progress? Tell us a little bit
about that before we wrap up today.
[00:59:52] Don Carleton: Erin Purdy and I are co-authors of a biography of
Bill Hobby, the son of [01:00:00] Oveta Culp Hobby and William P. Hobby Sr.
Bill Hobby, whose full name is William P. Hobby Jr., was involved for a good
portion of his life in helping to develop the family newspaper and their media
properties and television stations. As far as Texas history is concerned he’s a
major political figure.
[01:00:22] He was elected lieutenant governor of Texas in 1972, and he served
until 1990—that’s an eighteen-year period, roughly. Many times longer than
any other lieutenant governor in the history of Texas. And he was a major force
presiding over the senate in Texas. So, he played a key role of a critical role in
much of the legislation that was passed by the Texas legislature in the 1970s
[01:00:56] So anyway, we’re, Erin and I are working on that [01:01:00]
biography now, not literally as we speak, but maybe as soon as we quit.
[01:01:05] Erin Purdy: That’s right, as soon as I turn off the recording. We
should mention that Bill Hobby’s personal papers are here at the center. And
again, that’s an example of how our collections inspire original scholarship.
[01:01:15] So that’s what we have to look forward to.
[01:01:27] This episode of American Rhapsody was brought to you by several
collections at the Briscoe Center, including the papers of William P. Hobby Sr., Oscar Colquitt, James Ferguson, Jesse H. Jones and Ross Sterling. People across America have entrusted this evidence to us. And it’s used by people from across America.