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High On The Hogg

by David Westheimer

 

All over the country folks made fun of her name.

And said she had a twin sister, name of Yura.

Ima Hogg.

But they never made fun of her in Houston. In Houston she was a cultural leader, a patron of the arts and generous contributor to good causes. All over the state she was known as "The First Lady of Texas." And we called her Miss Ima. And she never had a twin sister named Yura, or any sister at all. She had three brothers and her daddy was Big Jim Hogg, a governor of Texas. How big was Jim Hogg? O. Henry, who once worked for the Houston Post, said "he was about the size of two butchers" and back in those days it took a big man to cut a cow up into steaks and chops.

Her name was not a cruel, quirky joke of her fathers. She was named after the heroine of an epic poem by his brother, Thomas Hogg. And she never raised any little Hoggs. Miss Imas young fiancé was killed in World War I and she never married.

She was born in the little Texas town of Mineola in 1882. Nine years later she was living in the Texas Governors Mansion in Austin, the state capital. She moved out with the rest of her family in 1895 when her fathers second term ended. After attending the University of Texas she moved to New York to study music.

Ima continued piano studies in New York and Germany and in 1909 moved to Houston to teach. She helped organize the Houston Symphony Society in 1913 and was its second president, from 1917 to 1921. Maybe it was then they stated calling her Miss Ima instead of Miss Hogg. I know when I started working for the Houston Post in late 1939 thats how she was referred to in newspaper stories. I was in the entertainment department and got free tickets to Houston Symphony concerts and other events. Miss Ima was always there, graciously holding court, like royalty.

Not just because she was rich, which she was. In 1918 her family had developed an oilfield on their property south of Houston. Miss Ima was a philanthropist as well as a social leader. Among other things, she endowed the Houston Child Guidance Center, which must have been a pioneer in the field of child psychology. She was on the Houston School Board from 1943 until 1949 and she was president of the Houston Symphony Society from 1946 until 1956. In 1948 she became the first woman president of the Philosophical Society of Texas (you probably didnt know they had philosophers as well as cowboys in Texas and that some of the cowboys were philosophers) and still had time to help out the Welfare Association, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and The Texas State Historical Association.

She went national in 1960, when President Eisenhower appointed her to the advisory committee of the National Cultural Center in Washington, DC. precursor to the Kennedy Center For the Performing Arts. Two years later, Jackie Kennedy appointed Miss Ima an advisor to the White House Fine Arts committee.

Honors and philanthropies kept piling up.

She was the first woman to receive the University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Award, she was honored at the annual awards banquet of the National Trust For Historic Preservation and won the Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award. She gave the State of Texas the land and buildings for what later became the Winedale Museum (an outdoor museum and study center) supported the Houston Museum of Fine Arts donating, among other things, Bayou Bend, her 15-acre estate.

Bayou Bend was on of the six sites in Houston on the Azalea Trail, which thousands of Houstonians visited every March. I never took the Azalea Trail but Dody and her sister did. Bayou Bend is actually located in a bend of Buffalo Bayou, the largest of the many bayous running through the city. (Braes Bayou, the one I used to skinny dip in when I was a kid, is lined with cement now and looks man-made.) When Bayou Bend was built in the 'twenties it cost $217,000, which would be many millions in today's money. It was pink stucco with a copper roof. Over the years she filled it with costly antique furniture (her first purchase was an eighteenth-century American Queen Anne armchair), paintings and artifacts. And then she gave it to Houston Museum of Fine Arts, which converted it into a museum. It is now listed in the National register of Historic Places.

Miss Ima died in 1975, 93 and still on the go. While visiting London.

Miss Ima left most of her considerable estate to the Ima Hogg Endowment which supports childrens mental health services in the greater Houston area.

And no one in Houston laughs when they hear that name.

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