During her lifetime at the turn of the 20th century, Ima Hogg was known as a society leader, but also a prominent philanthropist with an interest in art and music, as well as the mental health of her community. Known fondly as “The First Lady of Texas,” she was the daughter of a former Texas Governor. However, she was also known for a misunderstanding regarding her name. Yes, her name was indeed “Ima” but she did not have a sister named Ura.
Miss Hogg’s name came from a character in a Civil War era poem by her uncle titled “The Fate of Marvin,” a work that had two characters named Ima and Leila. It was apparently harmless as a first name but the challenge came when it was combined with her surname. Apparently her father did not at first realize the difficulty of the name combination. A grandfather did but because of slow travel at the time he was too late to object. She did have three brothers though there was no sister at all.
Born in Mineola, Texas in 1882 Miss Hogg’s family had a long record for public service, In fact, her grandfather Joseph Lewis Hogg had helped write the Texas Republic constitution some years before. Her father first practiced law in Tyler then when he was elected Texas Attorney General the family moved to Austin. When her father was sworn in as governor in 1891 the family—including Ima—were present.
The family moved into the Governor’s Mansion, an 1855 era building that had condition issues, so that Ima sometimes was asked to pry chewing gum off the walls. Also, the rambunctious Hogg children used the Governor’s mansion as a playground. They had fun sliding down the banisters but when a brother had an accident that ended. To prevent it, Governor Hogg installed point up tacks on the banisters, and the holes remained visible for many years.
Also, since the children acquired a variety of pets and at one time used them in a sort of circus until their father stopped it, and then had them return the nickel admission fee they had charged. Also, they acquired a pair of ostriches named Jack and Jill, and when Ima tried to ride one of them she was tossed off, when struck by a stone from her brother’s slingshot.
Meanwhile her mother’s health began to decline and after she died from tuberculosis in 1895 an aunt came to live with the family. A talented musician, Ima studied privately and after two years’ attendance at the University of Texas in Austin, she traveled to New York for further music training. Then in January 1905 after an injury in a train accident, Governor Hogg declined and died in 1906.
After more music education in Europe, Ima returned to live in Houston, but was aware that even such a big city lacked musical and other cultural opportunities. She taught music, was active in theatricals, and eventually organized the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
Meanwhile in 1918 as oil was discovered on the family’s Varner Plantation outside Houston the new funds made Miss Hogg aware of new service opportunities. According to her biographer, she felt that since the money had come from the land and nothing that the family had done, the proceeds should be used for the benefit of her fellow Texans.
In 1929 Miss Hogg established the Houston Child Guidance Center, an organization that treated disturbed children, continuing her father’s and Miss Hogg’s interest in the topic. Later she told an interviewer that founding of the children’s guidance center had been the most satisfying of her life.
When Miss Hogg’s brother died in on a trip to Germany his will provided $2.5 million for the University of Texas. When his money and Ima’s funds were combined this provided the money to establish in 1940 the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas. Eventually the Foundation focused its funds toward mental health to the needy and elderly.
In the 1940s Miss Hogg ran for election for the Board of the Houston Independent School District—and was elected—by obtaining more than 1000 votes than her opponent. She served only one term, but during her service she worked to remove gender and race, as factors in setting pay scales and established art educations courses for Black students.
Miss Hogg had always had an interest in collecting art. Including items by Native artists as well as Europeans. She was one of the few collectors of American antiques instead of just the more popular European pieces. Also, about this time the Hogg family had developed the new Houston neighborhood of River Oaks, which was the location of Bayou Bend, the family home. Eventually Bayou Bend became affiliated with the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and displayed many items in Miss Hogg’s collections.
When the family home became part of the museum in 1965 Miss Hogg said, “When you love something enough it’s easy to give it up in order to see it go on.”
As to Miss Hogg’s appearance one associate described Miss Hogg as “Small and dainty—and feminine—and smart and sharp and knowledgeable—all rolled into one.” At a height of 5 foot 2 inches, when she was 81 she was described as a “blue-eyed strawberry blonde.” Miss Hogg was also self confident, as illustrated when one day in 1914 when she awoke to find an intruder in her bedroom. She confronted him as he sought to steal her jewelry, and when she found out he was unemployed she gave him assistance in obtaining one. Her final comment: “He didn’t look like a bad man.”
Miss Hogg died in August, 1975 at the age of 93 in London on vacation when she took a fall. Then as her final service was conducted at Bayou Bend, she was honored for her final legacy—the Ima Hogg Foundation founded in 1954.
Though she never married it wasn’t for lack of suitors. In fact her biographer related that she once told a friend that she had over time received more than 30 marriage proposals but “she wouldn’t have any of them.”
Anne Adams is a retired church staffer. She lives in East Texas and has an historical column for a local newspaper. She has published in Christian and secular publications for more than 40 years.