When Ann Richards delivered the keynote address of the 1988 Democratic National Convention she instantly became a media celebrity and triggered a rivalry that would alter the course of American history.
In “Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards,” author Jan Reid, a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly magazine, draws on his long friendship with Richards, interviews with her family and many of her closest associates, her unpublished correspondence with longtime companion Bud Shrake and extensive research to tell a personal story of Richards’ remarkable rise to power as a liberal in a conservative state.
In 1990, Richards won the governorship of Texas, upsetting the GOP’s colorful rancher and oilman Clayton Williams. The first ardent feminist elected to high office in America, she opened public service to women, blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, gays and people with disabilities. Her progressive achievements and the force of her personality created a lasting legacy that far transcends her rise and fall as governor of Texas.
Reid, M.A. ’72, traces the whole arc of Richards’ life, beginning with her youth in Waco, her marriage to attorney David Richards, her frustration and boredom with being a young housewife and mother in Dallas, and her shocking encounters with Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. He follows Richards to Austin and the wild 1970s scene and describes her painful but successful struggle against alcoholism. He tells the full, inside story of Richards’ rise from county office and the state treasurer’s office to the governorship, where she championed gun control, prison reform, environmental protection and school finance reform, and he explains why she lost her reelection bid in 1994 to George W. Bush, launching him toward the presidency.
Reid’s nuanced portrait, published by The University of Texas Press, reveals a complex woman who battled her frailties and a good-old-boy establishment to claim a place on the national political stage and prove “what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in.”
All images in the slideshow are courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Read reviews of “Let the People In” in The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News.