Welcome back to another installment of Adventures in Feministory. This week we present the “Anns Without E’s Edition,” beginning with famed Texas politician Ann Richards. Before stepping onto the political scene in 1976, Richards, a Waco native, graduated from Baylor University on a debate scholarship, a skill that would give her an advantage over her opponents throughout her political career. She then trained as a teacher at the University of Texas and worked as a junior high school history teacher in Austin for two years before leaving to focus more time on raising her four children. However, this move proved to be only the beginning of Richards’ career as she began volunteering for several liberal and progressive election campaigns across Texas—including those of Sarah T. Hughes, Texas’s first female district judge; and Sarah Weddington, the attorney who represented “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade. What a difference volunteers make!
In 1976 Richards entered the political arena herself, winning a seat on the Travis County Board of Commissioners. Ten years later she made the move to state government and won the position of Texas State Treasurer. She was so popular with her constituents that when she ran again in 1986 she won unopposed.
Richards was introduced to the national audience in a big way after her keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, in which she made a jab at then-Vice President and fellow Texan George H.W. Bush and famously said, on the ability of women to succeed in public office, “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” Word, Ann. So true. Check out the video of her speech below and prepare to be charmed:
After totally verbally sticking it to the Reagan Administration, Richards went on to become the 45th Governor of Texas—the second woman ever to do so—and used her time in office to increase the number of minorities and women in Texas legislature and pump the Texas economy up, if you will. Many thought she would become the first female President of the United States. Unfortunately, when she ran for reelection in 1994 she was defeated by the son of the VP she had insulted six years before, George W. Bush. But Ann’s work was far from over.
After leaving political office she went on to continue campaigning for democratic candidates, published her second book I’m Not Slowing Down in 2004, and even went back to teaching in 2005 with the class “Women and Leadership” at the University of Texas at Austin. She worked tirelessly to encourage the growth of the arts in Texas and was heavily involved in festivals Austin City Limits and South By Southwest. Not to mention, she also made a cameo in one of the greatest Texas-based television shows of all time, King of the Hill, where she accidentally gets mooned by Hank Hill but handles it like a pro.
Unfortunately, Richards’s life was not always easy. She was a notorious drinker and her alcoholism peaked just as her political career was taking off and her marriage was ending. She divorced from her husband Dave in 1980 and never remarried. However, she entered treatment and went on to change the stage for women in USian politics forever.
In 2006, Richards died of esophageal cancer, but her legacy continues through her children (her daughter, Cecile Richards, is the president of Planned Parenthood), her grandchildren, and the schools Ann Richards Middle School and the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, both in Austin. So, the next time you need inspiration to join that volunteer organization, start your own arts festival, or run for governor (or president!) remember Ann Richards.