Willie Chapman Cooper Hobby, First Lady of Texas, socially prominent figure in the Texas and national political scenes, was born on June 19, 1876, in Woodville, Texas, to Congressman Samuel Bronson Cooper, Sr., and Phoebe N. (Young) Cooper. Her father served in a number of prominent public roles following a successful career in law. Willie Chapman Cooper Hobby was the oldest of five children. Her siblings were Samuel Bronson Cooper, Jr., Bird Bower Cooper Sholars, Margarette Helena Cooper Jacoway, and Kirby Cooper.
In her early years, Willie attended Lucy Ann Kidd-Key’s college (known as North Texas Female College and Conservatory of Music in the early 1890s and later called Kidd-Key College), a women’s college and conservatory in Sherman, Texas. At just sixteen years of age, she graduated with honors. After her father was elected to U. S. Congress, she moved with her family to Washington, D. C., where she was known as “Miss Willie,” and she spent several years acting as his secretary. In 1910 she and her family moved to New York where she continued to play an active part in political and social circles.
On May 15, 1915, Willie Chapman Cooper married William Pettus Hobby, then lieutenant governor of Texas, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her husband was re-elected lieutenant governor in 1916 and subsequently served as governor of Texas from 1917 to 1921. During her time as First Lady, Willie Hobby was regarded as an entertainer and enlivened the Governor’s Mansion during World War I, when she hosted state dinners while upholding federal guidelines on wartime food rationing. During a tour to raise funds for the war cause undertaken by Margaret Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, she welcomed her to the mansion in Austin. Willie contributed to the war effort herself by knitting socks and mittens for the Red Cross and making bandages in the surgical rooms. She served on the State Council of Defense as well as the War Camp Community Service League. According to the Houston Press, she “made the Mansion at Austin a mecca for thousands. She reined there with a democracy that thrilled the most humble and brought equal praise from the most aristocratic.”
Known for her love of music and painting, Willie Hobby was described in the Austin American-Statesman as a “brilliant, learned, well-poised and well minded woman.” She also advocated to the Texas legislature for increased funding for the Governor’s Mansion and set about renovating the then sixty-year-old building, including the instillation of a steam heater. She was credited by contemporaries as being an industrious and generous woman, who made her own clothes. Despite not being a cook herself, she contributed many recipes from her famous house guests over the years to Florence Stratton’s Favorite Recipes of Famous Women (1925). Outside of the First Lady’s office, Willie Hobby was a prominent clubwoman and was active in the Women’s Club of Beaumont and the John McKnitt Alexander Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution. She briefly publicly supported woman suffrage at the beginning of her husband’s term as lieutenant governor.
On January 14, 1929, Willie Chapman Cooper Hobby died in her home in Houston, Texas. She was interred at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston in the Hobby Family plot. Following her death, William P. Hobby published a collected volume of bereavement notes and letters that showed how loved she was by the community and the impact she had not only in the Governor’s Mansion but the social circles in the areas where she lived. A scrapbook of hers, filled with news clippings and other ephemera, as well as several letters she wrote to her husband, can be found at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. A replication of her inaugural dress, donated by William P. Hobby, can be found at Texas Woman’s University.