Ann Richards”A Woman’s Place is in the Dome”
By April D. Stumpff
Ann Richards was one of the best-known and beloved governors in Texas history, the only woman to be elected to that office on her own merits. But she was also a controversial figure, having been elected after admitting to struggling with alcoholism and divorce, and being a Democrat in a Republican state to boot.
Dorothy Ann Willis was a native Texan, born near Waco in 1933. She experienced a typical childhood for a girl in central Texas in the time—a state champion debater who was nevertheless expected to prepare for a career as housewife.
That vision came to pass when she married David Richards while they were both still in college. The couple eventually had four children. After graduation from law school, David became a lawyer in Austin. Both David and Ann began to dabble in politics. Sarah Weddington, a candidate for the Texas legislature, recruited Ann to help run her campaign in 1971. After Weddington’s victory, Ann decided to run for office herself and won election as one of four Travis County (Austin) Commissioners. The job, and other things, placed so much strain on her private life that she and David divorced. Next she ran for State Treasurer and won again. This office was the springboard for her successful race for Texas governor in 1990.
During her four-year term as governor, Ann brought many corporations and funds to Texas. She instituted the state lottery, a drug rehabilitation program for prison inmates, and an ethics advisory position to the governor’s list of counselors. Though she was a popular governor, she lost her bid for re-election in 1994 to a rising political star named George W. Bush. She became a prominent figure in Democratic politics but never ran for office again. Ann Richards died of throat cancer in 2006.