Throughout her lifetime, Texas Governor Ann Richards advocated for equal rights for women and minorities. During her term as governor, she worked to improve Texas education, ensure a more effective and responsive government, and reform the Texas prison system. Across the state and country, people recognized her for her political insight and charisma.
Born on September 1, 1933, and raised in Waco, Texas, Richards attended Waco High School, where she received her first exposure to political debate as a participant in Girls State. She attended Baylor University on a debate scholarship and received her undergraduate degree in 1954. She began her career as a junior high school social studies and history teacher. While raising four children, she stayed active in local politics and countless democratic political campaigns, helping to elect both Sarah Weddington and Wilhemina Delco to the Texas Legislature before running for her own first elected position.
In 1976, Richards defeated a three-term incumbent to become the Precinct 3 commissioner on the Travis County Commissioners’ Court. She served on the commissioners’ court until 1982 when she made the unprecedented leap from county politics to Texas State Treasurer, becoming the first woman elected to a statewide office in 50 years.
Thanks to her well-known wit and oratorical skills, Richards was invited to deliver the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, a speech that earned her national recognition. In 1990, after a brutal campaign, Richards became the first woman elected in her own right as governor. Texas’ first woman governor, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, is considered to have been elected as a proxy for her husband, James “Pa” Ferguson, who was impeached.
As governor, Richards set in motion an economic revitalization program, realizing 2 percent economic growth in 1991 while the U.S. economy as a whole shrank. Her audits saved the state $6 billion, and she revitalized Texas’ corporate infrastructure, positioning the state for growth later in the decade. Additionally, Richards reformed the Texas prison system, introduced the Texas Lottery as a revenue-generating fund, and signed into law a bill requiring Texas drivers to have motor vehicle insurance when renewing a vehicle’s registration.
After being unseated by then-newcomer George W. Bush in 1994, Richards continued to work tirelessly in her public life, including making countless public speaking appearances, campaigning for Democratic candidates across the country, writing books, advocating for women’s health, and making frequent appearances on television and film. Richards received innumerable awards and recognition throughout her career, including the Texas NAACP Presidential Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Rights and the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame Honoree for Public Service.
Richards died on September 13, 2006, following a vigorous fight to overcome esophageal cancer. Before her death, Richards helped found the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, an all-girls public school in Austin dedicated to preparing young girls to become our future leaders.