Dorothy Ann Willis Richards was a Texas politician and the Governor of Texas from 1991-95, known for her progressive politics, quick wit, sharp tongue, and helmet of bright white hair. Richards was born in Lakeview, near Waco, in 1933. She attended Waco High School in the late 1940s where she met her future husband, David Richards, and as part of the debate team, attended Girls State, a mock government assembly, where she was elected lieutenant governor, sparking the political involvement that would shape her later career. Richards finished high school in 1950 and attended Baylor University, finishing in 1954. During that time, David transferred to Baylor to be with Ann, and the two married in 1953. The couple moved to Austin after graduation, where David attended law school at the University of Texas, and Ann taught junior high government. The couple then moved to Dallas in 1957 where David began practicing law, arguing civil rights and workers rights cases, representing several labor unions. For a brief period in 1961-62, the family moved to Washington D.C. when David got a job as a staff lawyer with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. They were quickly disillusioned with D.C. society and "came to the conclusion that when [they] had moved to Washington, [they] had left the New Frontier." The family moved back to Dallas after only one year. In the 12 years the Richardses spent in Dallas, they remained very involved in progressive activist groups and the Democratic party, and they also stayed busy having four children - Cecile (now President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America), Dan, Clark, and Ellen were all born in those years.
Although they made many close friends there, in 1969, Ann and David decided they could no longer stand living in the stifling conservative environment of Dallas, and David took a job in Austin, continuing his labor and civil rights legal work. Ann became more heavily involved in local politics, eventually managing the legislative campaigns of Sarah Weddington in 1972 and Wilhelmina Delco in 1974. Weddington was the attorney for "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, and Delco was the first African American to represent Austin in the Texas Legislature. Ann continued to work for Weddington during her time in the Texas House, providing Ann the avenue to become known around the Texas Capitol and solidify her political aspirations. After David turned down a request from the Texas Democratic leadership to run for county commissioner in 1976, he encouraged Ann to run instead. She won and became the first woman elected county commissioner in Travis County. She served in that office until 1982, when she was elected state treasurer. Richards was not only the first woman to serve as state treasurer, but she was also the first woman elected to statewide office since Miriam Ferguson was elected governor in 1932. In 1980, Richards was treated for alcoholism, and her marriage to David ended later that year.
Richards was reelected state treasurer in 1986, and her political star kept rising. She delivered her famous address at the National Democratic Convention in 1988, rising to national prominence as a result of that speech and her famous line about the elder George Bush, "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." In 1990, Richards ran for governor, winning the Democratic nomination after a somewhat ugly race against Attorney General Jim Mattox and former Governor Mark White. She defeated Republican Clayton Williams on November 6, 1990, and was inaugurated on January 15, 1991, a historic day for Austin as Richards led thousands of citizens to "take back the Texas Capitol" in a march down Congress Avenue.
As governor, Ann Richards appointed many women, Latinos, and African Americans to office. She created the state lottery, worked to equally distribute public school funding, vetoed the Concealed Carry Bill, and reformed the Texas prison system. Richards also brought the Texas Film Commission to the Office of the Governor and advocated extensively for the Texas film industry. Richards was defeated for reelection in 1994 by George W. Bush, and her parting words with the Office of the Governor were, "I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.'"
After leaving office, Richards served as a political consultant. She received numerous awards, including the Texas NAACP Presidential Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Rights, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award, and the Mexican government's Order of the Aztec Eagle. She was also honored by the Texas Women's Hall of Fame. She served as a visiting professor of politics at Brandeis University in the late 1990s and authored two books. She spent her years after her divorce from David with author Bud Shrake, an old friend and the second great love of her life. Richards was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March 2006 and died on September 13, 2006. in Austin. She is buried in the Texas State Cemetery. In 2007, the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a preparatory school for girls, opened in Austin.