By Sarah Sattelberg
Oveta Culp Hobby, who attended UMHB and was the first commander of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, paved the road brick by brick for female military members.
Current women veterans serve alongside men, which is a far cry from Hobby’s days.
Junior microbiology major Lauren Bacall Snowden spent five years in the military. During her time in service she only saw a small difference in the way women were treated
“I don’t think women are treated unfairly, but there is a difference. It’s not so dramatic that you can’t get promoted”
Hobby was born in Killeen, Texas, to Ike and Emma Culp and was one of
seven children. Her mother instilled in her community service while her father guided her love for the law.
Hobby’s interests in law were cultivated further by accompanying her father, a state legislator, to sessions in Austin. Though she missed a large portion of classes while attending assemblies at the capital, she maintained good grades.
Hobby enrolled at what would become the University of Mary Hardin- Baylor. While a student she participated in elocution (public speaking)and school plays.
After a period of time at the college, Hobby was asked to be a legislative parliamentarian for the Texas House of Representatives. While serving in that capacity she studied law.
Hobby spent the next few years participating in politics. In 1931 she began doing newspaper publishing with her husband, former Gov. William Hobby in Houston. Her husband was the editor and publisher and she assisted him in all areas.
During World War II, Hobby was asked to organize the Women’s Interest section of the War Department.
She came up with plans as to how the new unit would be put together after observing the British women’s army and learning from their mistakes.
“You have said the Army needs the corps. That is enough for me,” Hobby said when accepting the position.
The task at hand would have many obstacles. One of the largest of these would be acceptance from male counterparts and some in government who thought women should not be serving in the military.
Hobby spoke to the first officer candidate class of the WAAC on July 23, 1942.
“You are the first women to serve. Never forget it. … You have taken off silk and put on khaki.”
Integrating women meant new uniforms had to be designed for the WAAC recruits. Hobby hired popular designers to create the uniform. The design was turned down by the quartermaster, citing the belt as a waste of leather and the pleat a waste of cloth. He designed a different uniform.
On the first payday the comptroller general refused to pay the WAAC doctors. They claimed that they were authorized to pay persons serving as doctors in the service and women were not persons. A special act of Congress had to be passed so that the physicians would get compensation.
When Hobby made a request that the Army engineers design a barracks for her troops she was met with this statement. “You’re not in the Army. Do it yourself.”
Hobby was invited in a letter by the Army-Navy club as an officer in the U.S. Army to make use of the club’s facilities but was asked to use the back door.
The WAAC transitioned to an official component of the Army when it became the Women’s Army Corps with Hobby as commander.
Even as she was met with such resistance her troops were a shining success. It was found that one WAC could do the work of two male soldiers in some areas.
Hobby became exhausted from the never ending work load and she asked permission to resign in 1945. She was granted her request, and it is said her husband met her with a stretcher.
Hobby later went on to become the secretary of the new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and so much more.
Though some military women say some harassment does occur, it is a far cry from the days of World War II and that is owed in part to Hobby.
Senior cell biology major Elizabeth Marshall had served six and a half years when she decided to go back to school to become an army physician assistant. She is currently in the UMHB ROTC program. Her experience as a woman in a predominantly male profession was good. She believes the Army could take a tip from the Marines and train the women the same as the men.
“I think the military could do a better job of training their female soldiers. They need to train them to carry themselves better,” Marshall said.
The full extent of how times have changed can be seen in how male soldiers feel about females serving.
Junior recreation leadership major Jesse Lambert served four years in the Marine Corps.
“Women in the military are cool. They can handle everything a guy can. In a combat situation a lady can shoot just as well as I can,” Lambert said.