Wilhelmina Delco experienced many "firsts" in her life: first African American elected to the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, first African American elected to represent Travis County in the Texas House of Representatives, and first woman appointed Speaker Pro Tempore of the House.
Her presence on the Austin school board in 1968 helped speed school desegregation, and in 1969 she was named one of Austin's outstanding women of the year. Serving on the school board took time from caring for the home, but she turned that into a family lesson. "Mother is not a maid," Delco told her children, and she and her husband, Exalton, created a "work wheel" to assign chores to themselves and each child.
In 1973 she was a founder of Austin Community College, and in 1974 she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. She prepared herself by "doing my homework" so that no one could accuse her of being unprepared. She fought for child welfare, licensing day care, school finance reform and protection against child abuse.
One of the accomplishments about which she was most proud was the passage of a bill that allowed the state's historically black university, Prairie View, to become part of the Texas A&M system and gain access to the $5 billion Permanent University Fund, which allowed the university to greatly improve. The school named a building in her honor.
In 1991, she was named Speaker Pro Tempore, second in command in the House. No woman had ever held this position before. "I realized how important it was for women and children, particularly, to walk in that House and see a woman in charge," she said. She retired from politics in 1995.
Biography Source Information
Biographies are reprinted from the Foundation for Women’s Resources (now Women’s Resources), Dallas, Texas. They originally appeared in "From Gutsy Mavericks to Quiet Heroes: True Tales of Texas Women," video study guide, Austin: The Foundation for Women's Resources, 1997. Death dates have been added where needed.