Ann Richards, 1933-2006
Contact: Ramona Kelly, Associate Director
Center for American History
Phone: (512) 825-5632
Fax: (512) 475-9468
Date: September 14, 2006
The staff of the University of Texas Center for American History pay tribute to the Honorable Ann Richards, former Governor of Texas, 1991-1995.
“Government touches every part of our lives: the quality of education we receive, the prices we pay at the grocery store, access to medical care, everything from garbage pickup to the most profound questions of life and death on the planet. There is no aspect of our lives so secure that it is shielded from the influence of public policy. I am impatient with the term ‘women’s issues,’ which are assumed to revolve around whether we have babies or not, Women’s issues are no different from the issues that affect all human beings.”
— Ann Richards, Straight From the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Places (1989: New York, Simon & Schuster), p. 253.
The political legacy of former Texas Governor Ann Richards (1933-2006) is represented in the Ann W. Richards Papers at the Center for American History, the University of Texas. The Richards Collection includes over 1,500 cubic feet of correspondence, memoranda, scrapbooks, campaign records, schedules, gubernatorial appointments, legislative files, photographs, video and audiotapes, memorabilia and artifacts.
This historically valuable collection of papers include records from her service as she ascended the political ladder from Travis County Commissioner, Texas State Treasurer and finally as Governor of Texas. The Richards Papers are part of the Center for American History’s extensive collection of major Texas political figures from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“Ann Richards was a significant figure in the recent history of Texas, whose political and cultural achievements left a permanent mark, not only on her home state, but on the nation as a whole,” said Don E. Carleton, director of the Center for American History. “Those achievements, as well as the record of her life and career, are fully documented in the extensive papers and memorabilia that Ann Richards gave to the Center in the late 1990s. That collection includes her official papers as Governor of Texas, in addition to her personal papers. The Center is proud to serve as the steward of the Ann Richards papers, which will be a permanent resource for teaching on and research about the wide range of critical issues with which Ann Richards dealt during her distinguished career.”
The Richards Collection represents not only the long, distinguished career of Ann Richards as an elected official, but also a comprehensive overview of the politics, culture and social change in Texas during the latter half of the twentieth century. During Richards’ public life and career, the state emerged as a leading economic power in the nation. Texas became the second most populous state in the nation as the landscape changed to reflect its urban and suburban character. Reflecting these changes and the state’s true diversity, more women and minorities rose to positions of influence.
Richards understood the importance of her position, the image that she projected, and the need to preserve her papers and records at the Center for American History and the University of Texas. “There’s going to be a lot of little girls who open their history texts (and) see my picture,” Richards said. “And they will say, ‘If she can do it, so can I.'”
In addition to her term as governor, Ann Richards served as Travis County Commissioner from 1977-1983, and Texas State Treasurer from 1983-1991. Nearly all of the public records from Richards’ entire career are open to the public for research and reading. Private records will remain closed for one year after Governor Richards’ death.
Born on September 1, 1933, in Lakeview, Texas, Dorothy Ann Willis (Ann Richards) was the only child of Cecil and Iona Willis. In an interview late in her life, Richards said, “My mother gave me the grit to work hard, but my father gave me self-confidence.”
The Willis family moved to and settled in Waco, Texas, and in 1946 Ann entered Waco High School where she earned a reputation as a skilled orator and member of the debate team. She subsequently enrolled at Baylor University in Waco on a debate scholarship and married her high school sweetheart, David Richards, in 1953. Upon graduation in 1954 the couple moved to Austin, where David attended the University of Texas School of Law and Ann taught government at Fullmore Junior High. They later moved to Dallas, became active in local liberal politics, and had four children: Cecile, Dan, Clark, and Ellen.
The Richards family returned to Austin in 1969, where David became a successful labor and civil rights attorney. She became increasingly involved in local politics and managed the campaign of Wilhelmina Delco, who became the first African American to represent Austin in the Texas Legislature. Richards served as Sarah Weddington’s campaign manager during a run for the Texas Legislature and also worked on Gonzalo Barrientos’ campaign for the Texas House of Representatives.
Finally, in 1976, Richards herself sought public office and was elected the first female Travis County (metropolitan Austin) Commissioner. Moving up to the state government level, she won the Texas Treasurer’s office in 1982, again breaking ground as the first woman ever to hold the position of Treasurer in Texas, as well as being the first female to win a Texas statewide office in 50 years. She was admired for her political acumen and propelled by a dedicated group of supporters. The Richards wit and style also made her an attractive figure to the public and the media.
Quickly rising to become one of the most influential Democrats in the nation, Richards gained national prominence in 1988 with her delivery of the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. In 1990 she ran for the Texas governorship, winning against fellow Democrats Attorney General Jim Mattox and former Texas Governor Mark White. Richards then defeated Republican Clayton Williams in the general election that received national attention. The media captured her public persona during the contest. Richards was fond of saying that “it’s been a tradition in Texas that when there is a mess, a woman has to clean it up.”
Ann Richards served as Governor of Texas from January 15, 1991 to January 17, 1995. She was only the second female governor in the history of the Lone Star State. During her term in office, she supported the successful creation of a state lottery. She actively supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and made frequent trips to Washington to work with the Texas Congressional delegation. She successfully persuaded the state legislature to pass an ethics law and created an Ethics Commission for public officials. The state’s prison system doubled in size to meet the expanding inmate population. During her term, many foreign dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, visited Texas.
As governor, Richards took pride in the unprecedented numbers of women and minorities she appointed to state positions. Of the 3,000 appointments she made, nearly half were women and more minorities assumed positions of leadership in state government during her tenure than at any time in history. As she later noted, “We cannot solve any of our problems until our institutions — both private and public — reflect the diversity of our population. So, if I had to choose one thing I accomplished as governor, it would be that I changed the face of state government in Texas by appointing minorities and women.”
Reflecting on her term as governor, and demonstrating some of her famous wit, Richards stated, “It [serving as governor] was a great honor. After all, when my grandmother was a girl, according to Texas law, the only people who could not vote were ‘idiots, imbeciles, the insane, and women.’ Less than one lifetime later, I was the governor of Texas.”
Republican nominee George W. Bush defeated Governor Richards in a contentious 1994 campaign. After losing her re-election bid, Richards said, “When people ask me how I felt about losing to George Bush in ’94, I tell them I mourned for three seconds and got over it. Mama taught me not to cry over spilt milk.”
From 1995 to 2001 she became a Senior Advisor at the law firm of Verner, Lipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand. In 2001 Richards worked for Public Strategies, Inc., a public relations and marketing firm specializing in public awareness campaigns.
Diagnosed with esophageal cancer in early 2006, she passed away at the age of 73 at her home in Austin on September 13, 2006.