Born: 1929 (Chicago)

Noted For: Wilhelmina Ruth Delco is a politician and educator noted as the first African-American elected official in Travis County and a 20-year member of the Texas State Legislature.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

From an early age, Wilhelmina Delco understood that knowledge equals opportunity, a concept impressed upon her by her mother, who was her role model. Later in life, Wilhelmina told the Austin American-Statesman: “My mother felt that education was the only thing nobody could take away from you.”

Her academic career was marked by success in the classroom and in extra-curricular activities, such as student government and dramatics. After graduating with a degree in sociology from Fisk University, she married and moved to Texas, where she became active in PTA affairs at both her children’s schools and at the state level. She was also a member of the Austin League of Women Voters.

In 1968, three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wilhelmina was elected to the Austin ISD Board of Trustees, making her the first African American elected to public office in Travis County. In 1974, she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as the first African-American legislator to represent District 50 in Travis County. During her 20-year legislative career, she continued to focus heavily on education, serving multiple sessions as chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. The Texas Observer cited her as one of the “brightest spots in the House” and  “a dedicated and forthright leader.” In 1991, she was appointed Speaker Pro Tempore as the first woman and the second African American to hold the second highest position in the House.

After retiring, the veteran legislator continued her focus on education, serving as the board chair at Huston-Tillotson College and as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She also served as chair of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity of the United States Department of Education. In 1986, Wilhelmina was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Additional Learning:

“Interview with Wilhelmina Delco”: Video interview archive at The Portal to Texas History