[Ann Richards], circa 1970s, PICB 17230
In 1933 Dorothy Ann Willis Richards was born in Lacy-Lakeview, near Waco. She attended high school in Waco where she was a member of the debate team. Her participation in Girls State, a mock-government program, sparked her interest in politics at an early age. She graduated from Baylor University in 1954 and soon after married David Richards. While David earned a law degree at UT, Ann taught at Fulmore Junior High School. They moved to Dallas where Richards became active in politics while also raising their four children.
Having returned to Austin in 1969, Richards managed legislative campaigns for Sarah Weddington and Wilhelmina Delco in the early 1970s and then worked as an assistant to Representative Weddington. In 1975 the local Democratic Party asked her husband to run for Travis County Commissioner; he declined but Ann ran instead. She won, becoming the first woman in that position.
In 1982 Richards was elected as State Treasurer, becoming the first woman elected to statewide office in 50 years. She delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, introducing the nation to her sense of humor, with such notable lines as, “…two women in 160 years is about par for the course. But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”
In 1990, Richards entered the race for governor, running a heated primary against Attorney General Jim Mattox and former governor Mark White. She won the Democratic nomination and then narrowly beat her Republican opponent Clayton Williams, becoming the second woman governor of Texas and the first elected in her own right. As governor, Richards appointed more women and minorities to state positions than the previous two governors combined.
She led reform of the state prison system, signed the Texas Financial Responsibility Law, overhauled public school finances, and vetoed a concealed weapons bill. She lost reelection to George W. Bush in 1994.
Richards later worked as a political consultant and received many awards, including the Texas NAACP Presidential Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Rights and the Mexican government’s Order of the Aztec Eagle. A public all-girls college preparatory school in Austin was named in her honor in 2007 less than a year after she died. She is buried at the Texas State Cemetery.
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