Ann Willis Richards is arguably one of the most important women in Texas history. Her broad political life included County Commissioner, Treasurer of the State of Texas, and the second woman Governor of Texas. She created opportunities to countless women, improved Texas economics, and made reformations of many crises faced by early Texas. Ann Richards was born Dorthy Ann Willis in Lakeview, Texas on September 1, 1933. She grew up in Waco, Texas and was granted a scholarship to attended Baylor University through her high school debate team. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she married Dave Richards and the two of them moved to Austin. Ann attended the University of Texas at Austin and she earned her teaching degree. She taught at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin and claimed that teaching was “the hardest work I had ever done.” Shortly after, she moved with her husband and their four children to Dallas where Ann volunteered for various campaigns and civil rights causes. Richards ran for Travis County Commissioner in 1976 and won with almost eighty-two percent of the vote. She beat three-term Commissioner Laurel Freeman and became the first woman elected as County Commissioner.
This was not her first political victory. In 1982, Ann was elected Texas State Treasurer, making her the first woman elected to Texas office in over fifty years. She was very admired and made many profitable decisions which maximized Texas’ return on investments. Before 1988, Ann Richards was mostly known amongst Texans but after the 1988 Democratic National Convention, Richards had the whole country talking. In her speech, Richards criticized the Reagan/ H.W. Bush Administration and supported fellow Democrat Walter Mondale. Richards showed her fiery personality as well as her great sense of humor with quotes such 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.” This speech definitely opened up more opportunities for Richards’ future political career. Ann Richards ran for 45th governor of Texas in 1990. Despite a vicious gubernatorial campaign in which Richards was accused of many things including drug problems, Ann Richards won and was elected the second woman governor of Texas on November 6, 1990.
The election was very close with a margin of 49-47 percent. With her economic reform, Texas went from a declining economy to a more prosperous one saving six billion dollars in just a matter of years. Aside from economics, Richards was also responsible for reforming the prison systems of Texas by reducing the amount of violent offenders released, starting a substance abuse program for inmates, and many other helpful reforms. As governor, Ann appointed more “minorities” (women, African Americans and Hispanics) to state positions than the two previous governors combined. Although her term was rather successful with few incidents, she lost the reelection to George W. Bush by a mere seven percent.
After her life as governor was over, Richards kept busy by serving on various boards fighting for philanthropic, public and educational interests. She continued fighting for women’s rights and urged women everywhere to become leaders. She was in the midst of planning the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders when she passed away in September 2006. The school was opened in August 2007 in Austin, Texas and continues to be a highly sought after school for young women across Texas. Ann Richards opened the door for countless women and minorities in Texas. She was and continues to be one of the most significant women in Texas history and her efforts live on strongly today.
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