The Hogg Family and Houston

[ Regional/Texas ]

The Hogg Family and Houston

Philanthropy and the Civic Ideal

By Kate Sayen Kirkland

The stirring story of the legendary Hogg family’s philanthropic contributions to Texas, and the pivotal trends of urban growth and civic support exemplified in their lives.

Don Carleton, series editor

2009

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Paperback

6 x 9 | 401 pp. | 14 b&w photos

ISBN: 978-0-292-71866-1

Progressive former governor James Stephen Hogg moved his business headquarters to Houston in 1905. For seven decades, his children Will, Ima, and Mike Hogg used their political ties, social position, and family fortune to improve the lives of fellow Houstonians.

As civic activists, they espoused contested causes like city planning and mental health care. As volunteers, they inspired others to support social service, educational, and cultural programs. As philanthropic entrepreneurs, they built institutions that have long outlived them: the Houston Symphony, the Museum of Fine Arts, Memorial Park, and the Hogg Foundation. The Hoggs had a vision of Houston as a great city—a place that supports access to parklands, music, and art; nurtures knowledge of the "American heritage which unites us"; and provides social service and mental health care assistance. This vision links them to generations of American idealists who advanced a moral response to change.

Based on extensive archival sources, The Hogg Family and Houston explains the impact of Hogg family philanthropy for the first time. This study explores how individual ideals and actions influence community development and nurture humanitarian values. It examines how philanthropists and volunteers mold Houston's traditions and mobilize allies to meet civic goals. It argues that Houston's generous citizens have long believed that innovative cultural achievement must balance aggressive economic expansion.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prologue
  • 1. A Family Philanthropy
  • 2. Houston, a Domain of Beautiful Homes
  • 3. Wholesome Lives for All Houstonians
  • 4. The Public's Education, a Many-Sided Community Responsibility
  • 5. The Symphony, a Constructive Force in Houston Civic Life
  • 6. A Museum by the People for the Use of the People
  • 7. The Bridges That Unite Us
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Works Consulted
  • Index

Ten years after leaving public service, James Stephen (Jim) Hogg, the first native-born governor of Texas (1891-1895), moved his law practice and business headquarters from the state's capital in Austin to Houston, the state's fastest-growing commercial center. Fueled by oil discoveries in surrounding counties and famous for a leadership ethos that welcomed newcomers and their aspirations, Houston had developed a business infrastructure of banks, railroads, and port facilities that encouraged economic expansion. Investors in the infant oil industry like partners Jim Hogg and Joseph Cullinan, whose Texas Company became Texaco after the governor's death, saw Houston as a good location for corporate headquarters because the city also was noted for its attractive residential neighborhoods and stimulating civic life.

The governor did not live long enough to influence Houston's development, but he left a legacy that shaped the emerging metropolis in fundamental ways when three of his four children, Will, Ima, and Mike, made Houston their permanent home after their father's death in 1906. For seventy years the fortunes of the siblings and their adoptive city were entwined. Taking seriously the lessons of their parents, Will, Ima, and Mike joined other far-sighted Houston families to develop a vision of the ideal city, and they invested in institutions that would fulfill their dreams. Until Ima Hogg's death in 1975, their imaginative approaches to commerce, government, and philanthropy allowed them to confront urban challenges and demonstrate the diverse ways in which private resources can be used to promote the public good and sustain a community's quality of life.

When Will, Ima, and Mike settled in Houston, they brought with them strong family values and a heritage of commitment to community service. Jim and Sally Stinson Hogg taught their children that public service was every citizen's duty, that strong families made stable communities, and that public education at public expense was essential to democracy. They introduced their children to music, art, and history and stressed humanitarian values of concern for others, appreciation of beauty, and stewardship of nature. Governor Hogg transmitted his reformist zeal to Will and Ima, who as children accompanied him on trips to schools, prisons, and mental asylums—expeditions that made indelible impressions on their young minds. The governor, an early progressive, believed the social, economic, and political problems of modern life could be identified and should be solved with proper application of analysis and expert advice. Toward the end of his life, the governor spent hours talking with his children about ways to make life better for all Texans.

Like many progressives who reached maturity before World War I, the Hogg siblings believed social change could be molded and community life improved. Their civic activism was a conscious moral response to industrial growth and urban expansion. Their can-do spirit was informed by strong patriotism and pride in their adopted hometown, a boosterism reflected in the newspapers and promotional materials of the era. They understood that public service through government participation, economic development through responsible business practice, and civic leadership through private philanthropy were all necessary components of healthy community life. The Hoggs invested in Houston's primary industries—cotton, real estate, and oil; they served on local government commissions and held elective office; but they made their most lasting impact as philanthropic entrepreneurs who built civic institutions that have long outlived them. Through these institutions, the Hoggs heeded their parents' admonitions to nurture the community that nurtured them; they empowered fellow citizens to pursue happiness; and they created the Hogg Foundation in the 1930s to be a transformational agent that would prevent, not just palliate, social ills.

Performers know activity on stage is meaningless without an audience. The Hoggs responded to Houston's ethos of progress with ideas that, in turn, shaped the drama of urban expansion in the Bayou City. Acting in concert with other forward-looking reformers, Will, Ima, and Mike inspired a responsive citizenry receptive to pleas for improvement and called upon friends in the community to help shape and explain Hogg family initiatives. Because the Hoggs identified their personal triumphs with their city's destiny, any analysis of their urban ideal perforce includes numerous city scenes and supporting players. Both the Hoggs' opportunity for civic activism and its success can be explained only by placing the family's work in a context that includes the advocacy of fellow reformers and a portrait of the city itself.

This story of individual efforts to improve the quality of life in Houston has not resonated with historians. Journalists may praise public-private alliances Houstonians forge to develop cultural and social service institutions for the city, but scholars too often disparage what they see as an overly cozy relationship among business leaders, local government officials, and philanthropists in shaping the community. Suspicious that the power elite's generosity toward fellow citizens merely masks venal motives, academics have failed to illuminate the synergistic nature of public-private interaction that was particularly powerful during the Hoggs' lifetimes. Scholars also have ignored the idealism that often prompts individual action and suggest instead that civic leaders simply wish to impose social and cultural controls on an unsuspecting citizenry. The Hoggs' dedication to service defies such analysis. They showed a concern for minority voices that was exceptional in their time; they focused attention on education and mental health care to empower fellow citizens; and they urged businessmen to be dutiful civic actors. Like the industry entrepreneurs who chose Houston for company headquarters, the Hoggs used their philanthropy to introduce trend-setting innovations: no museum or symphony existed in Texas when the Hoggs began their advocacy for these institutions; little attention was paid to positive mental health care when the Hoggs established the Child Guidance Center and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health; few people funded higher education for black citizens or insisted that minority groups be welcomed at cultural events; almost no one understood how material culture could tell America's story when Ima Hogg began collecting Americana and art of the Southwest.

Chroniclers have emphasized the city's phenomenal growth and reveled in its periodic scandals, but they rarely examine how generations of civic-minded Houstonians have marshaled public and private resources to enhance the urban scene and envision a city of destiny. Houston, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States, is a complex urban center that offers a wide range of choices to its citizens. For decades Houston's proactive optimists have understood that aggressive economic expansion and innovative cultural achievement can march together. They have tried to build an urban landscape destined to achieve "world-class" status. Houston's reputation as a free-enterprise heaven in a hot climate tells only part of the city's story. Houston is also a laboratory of cultural experiment where generous patrons have created a climate "essential to the flowering of genius."

The Hogg Family and Houston is neither a biography of three prominent Houston philanthropists nor an urban history of the United States' fourth-largest city. Rather, this study explores how individual ideals and actions influence community development. It examines how philanthropists and volunteers have molded Houston's traditions and mobilized allies to improve the quality of life for all Houstonians. It argues that Houstonians have favored philanthropies that nurture humanitarian values, build community, and encourage inclusivity—even in the era of de jure segregation. Philanthropy as practiced by the Hoggs and numerous Houston families has been a shaping agent and a leavening influence countering the city's commercialism. Houston philanthropists have tried to make their city a decent place to live; they have encouraged the better natures of their fellows; and they have tempered greed and self-aggrandizement with aspiration. The Hoggs believed passionately that everyone can be involved in philanthropic activities: volunteers can pitch in and help dozens of nonprofit organizations; activists can speak up to identify problems and proselytize solutions; donors can give, a little or a lot, to institutions that gain their trust. Philanthropists, while "never a homogeneous lot," are remarkable for their intensity, their self-criticism, and their energetic passion "to transform the insufficiently civil world that is into the world that might be" if their visions could be realized. Understanding the actions of the Hoggs as philanthropists in pursuit of an urban ideal enables us to see ourselves as civic actors and to grasp the role private initiative plays in a democracy. Ultimately the philanthropist's power, if secured by wealth, rests neither in marketplace goals of accumulating nor in political goals of dominating but rather in the authority of a voice that articulates the importance of pursuing a common good.

The Hoggs' embrace of Progressive Era values also makes analysis of their philanthropic contributions problematic for some historians. Progressivism is particularly difficult to understand when examined only as a political or economic phenomenon. In the South, progressives have been tainted because many white southerners used government reform—a critical Progressive Era goal—to separate black and white citizens in the tragedy of de jure segregation. Progressivism as practiced by the Hoggs is best defined not in political or economic terms but rather as a humanitarian attitude, an upper- and upper-middle-class urban response to the transformations in technology, transportation, and communication that created modern America. Progressives like the Hoggs were proactive optimists who understood that change was inevitable but who also respected tradition. To them, social, governmental, and economic structures were fundamentally sound but needed constant revision to strengthen underlying verities. In this view of progress, individuals could and should aspire to improve their lives and partake of the American dream. Progressive leaders like the Hoggs built on the late-nineteenth-century Progressive movement ethos articulated by people like their father: if society was by no means perfected, there was always hope that a better life was within reach and was well worth pursuing.

The Hogg Family and Houston describes, thematically, six ways Hogg family philanthropy, civic activism, and voluntarism framed Houston's development. In the 1920s the Hoggs tried to shape the built environment through business practices, public service, and philanthropy by building planned residential communities, by advocating city planning, and by donating park spaces (chapter 2). In the 1920s and 1930s they adopted the little-understood cause of positive mental health care and established the Houston Child Guidance Center (1929) and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health (1939) to help fellow citizens build wholesome lives (chapter 3). Like their father, the Hogg children believed education was a many-sided responsibility. In the 1910s and 1920s Will established an alumni organization at the University of Texas and funded student loan endowments at every Texas institution of higher learning; in the 1940s Ima served on the Houston Board of Education; and throughout their lives, the Hoggs supported lectures and faculty at the University of Texas and Rice Institute (chapter 4). Ima fell in love with music as a little girl, studied to be a concert pianist, and decided while still a University of Texas student that the state must have a symphony orchestra. She spent her adult life realizing this dream in Houston as founder, nurturer, and president of the Houston Symphony Society (chapter 5). In 1920 Will and Ima began collecting American decorative arts and paintings and conceived the idea that Houston must develop Texas's first municipal art museum. Will raised money for the original building, and Ima transferred the family's treasures to the museum's care in the 1940s through the 1960s (chapter 6). Finally, in the last decades of her life, Ima imagined the transformation of Bayou Bend, her home and garden, to a house museum and park and undertook several historic preservation projects around the state to transmit America's story to future generations (chapter 7).

The Hogg family's ability to unite politicians, volunteers, and business people in partnerships of civic responsibility illuminates the power of philanthropic vision to nurture the associations of democracy and provide alternative solutions to society's problems. The Hoggs belonged to a cosmopolitan circle in Houston. Like many of their friends, they traveled frequently, maintained homes in other cities, read widely, and debated issues of the day in extensive correspondence. Like other philanthropists, they recognized social problems often overlooked by economic power brokers and politicians, and they integrated the needs of family, community, state, and nation in an effort to reconcile individual goals and community purposes. Like most successful activists, they secured broad-based support. Through their city planning and residential development projects they tried to create an ideal American city by incorporating design elements and expertise from the East, the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest. Through their education and health care initiatives they hoped to empower Houstonians and Texans to pursue individual goals of life, liberty, and happiness. Through their art collections and historic preservation projects they sought to bring Texans "closer to the heart of an American heritage which unites us." Their every action supports the observation that "philanthropy permeates American life [and] touches each one of us countless times in countless ways."

Rain fell steadily in Houston on Friday, August 22, 1975. Dozens of chairs placed on the North Terrace at Bayou Bend stared empty and forlorn across the sodden lawn toward a marble statue of the goddess Diana standing in a garden framed by native bayou evergreens. For five decades Ima Hogg had welcomed visitors to this outdoor "room" for theatricals, orchestral evenings, garden trails, and weddings. On that dreary Friday, the empty chairs stood mute sentinels as friends crowded inside the house to bid farewell to the only daughter of James Stephen Hogg, remembered eighty years after he left office as one of Texas's most influential governors. Following the 3 p.m. memorial service, Ima would leave the home of her adult years and begin her final journey to Austin, the home of her youth. There, she would join her parents and brothers in the family burial plot at Oakwood Cemetery as Austin city flags flew at half-staff for two official days of mourning.

Journalists sent to record Houstonians' memorial to "the First Lady of Texas" photographed the empty seats and the folded umbrellas leaning against the front entrance. Like the 350 mourners sheltered from the rain in the handsome center hall, they recognized that "an irreplaceable part of Houston's soul is gone." Front-page stories, obituaries, and editorials reprised a family tradition of civic activism; columnists recalled important contributions made by Ima's grandparents, parents, and brothers and recounted anecdotes of a life devoted to "music, art, history and public service." Lonn Taylor, who had worked with her at Winedale, remembered Ima's love of wildflowers, Bach, individualism, folk art, Picasso, and cajolery. "She was a master at getting people to do things; she set an example that others were embarrassed not to follow." But she was also a steadfast friend, showering old and young with recipes, advice, fruit cakes, plants, gadgets, grapefruit, and inscribed Bibles. At ninety-three, Ima Hogg offered young guests Tang because the astronauts drank it in space, and she "remained an active participant in today's world."

Although suffering from arterial disease for some years, Ima had left Houston on August 5 for a vacation in London with friends. While negotiating a taxi in that city on August 14, she slipped and fell. Not strong enough to survive this accident, she succumbed to a coronary occlusion at 7 p.m. Houston time on August 19. As she had planned her many civic projects, so she programmed her funeral, noting in a codicil to her will, "I do not wish to subject my friends and relatives to prolonged eulogies or ceremonies or to require them to listen to music which we have so deeply loved and enjoyed during my lifetime on an occasion of this nature." The Reverend Maurice M. Benitez, at that time rector of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, read the seventeen-minute Episcopal service. The Reverend Thomas W. Sumners, the church's rector emeritus, noted in brief personal remarks that "Bayou Bend itself is [Miss Hogg's] eulogy." Young pallbearers chosen by Miss Hogg escorted the handsome casket draped in magnolia leaves. Attendees included tearful Bayou Bend docents seated on the curving staircase; her protégé and longtime friend, the concert pianist Drusilla Huffmaster; her lawyer, Leon Jaworski; her general factotum of fifty-five years, Gertrude Vaughn; her butler and chauffeur of twenty-three years, Lucius Broadnax; her friend, executrix, and secretary of twenty-three years, Jane Zivley; Houston's cultural, business, and political leaders; and her successor as overseer and developer of the Bayou Bend legacy, David B. Warren.

Because Miss Ima, as she was known to intimates and family, remained insatiably curious and fully engaged with life, her many friends reacted to her loss as if she had been a young person whose promising journey had been unexpectedly ended. Instead, Ima and her two Houston-based brothers, Will and Mike, had left their adoptive city a broad-based legacy that continues to shape community life. Profoundly influenced by the teachings of their parents and working together, the siblings imagined a beautiful American city supported by a balanced and thriving economy and governed by dedicated public servants. To achieve this dream, they proselytized their causes, prodded their fellow citizens to action, and built institutions that would survive them. For seventy years no aspect of twentieth-century urban life escaped their notice. Their community involvement, their urban vision, and their steadfast leadership enriched the lives of all who knew them and encouraged later generations to follow their examples as philanthropic entrepreneurs.

By Kate Sayen Kirkland

Kate Sayen Kirkland holds a Ph.D. in History from Rice University, where her dissertation on the Hogg family was awarded the Longcope Prize in 2004. She has been an active participant in Houston's nonprofit sector for thirty years.