TEXAS HISTORY MINUTE: Ima Hogg, known by many as 'First Lady of Texas'

By Ken Bridges
Special to the Herald Democrat
Ima Hogg

The name “Ima Hogg” has been a running joke in Texas for many years.  However, for anyone who knew her or had ever been touched by her many works, the real Ima Hogg was anything but a joke.

            Ima Hogg was born in the East Texas city of Mineola in 1882, the daughter of local prosecutor Jim Hogg, who would go on to serve as a popular state attorney general and as governor from 1891 to 1895.  Contrary to the popular myth, she did not have a sister named “Your-a” or any variation on that.  In reality, Gov. Hogg and his wife, Sarah, had only Ima and three sons: James, Thomas, and William, all born between 1875 and 1887.  “Ima” was a fairly popular name at the time, and her parents reportedly were further inspired by a poem that Jim Hogg’s brother had written, in spite of some reported protests within the family.  But she would spend most of her adult life signing her name as only “I. Hogg.”

            As a child, she showed a tremendous talent for the piano, an interest that coincided with her lifetime love of the arts.  She attended the University of Texas in 1899 and studied piano with teachers across Europe after the turn of the century. 

Not long after her father’s death in 1905, she ended her overseas studies and ultimately settled in Houston.  Here, she co-founded the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1913 and served as the organization’s president off-and-on for several years. 

Thanks to the family’s oil investments, Ima Hogg embarked on a number of charitable crusades.  In 1929, haunted by memories of depression she and one of her brothers suffered after their mother’s tragic 1895 death, she founded the Houston Child Guidance Center to help children with emotional issues.  She took this even further in 1940 when she started the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health in Austin, which has since helped countless people through its research and counseling activities.

Ima Hogg

            In 1943, she won a seat on the Houston school board, her only elected office.   Through this position, she worked to establish programs to promote music and the arts in the schools and fought for equal pay for equal work for both sexes and all races. 

At an age when many were retiring, Hogg only stepped up her activities.  In 1948, she became the first woman president of the Philosophical Society of Texas, an organization dating back to 1837 dedicated to advancing the arts and sciences in the state.  In the 1950s, she worked to restore several historic sites across the state, including the 1835 Martin Varner Plantation in Brazoria County, the nineteenth-century Winedale Inn in Round Top, and her family’s estate in Quitman.  She was soon named to the Texas State Historical Commission.  In 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed her to a commission to aid in the planning of the National Cultural Center, which later became the Kennedy Center.  And in 1962, Hogg worked with First Lady Jackie Kennedy in restoration of the White House.

Ima Hogg and an unidentified woman are seated in a horse-drawn carriage, decorated with flowers for the Tekram parade, part of Houston's No-Tsu-Oh festival. Two unidentified men sit atop horses on each side of the carriage. Date late 1890s

            Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie, spoke for many when they called her the “First Lady of Texas.”  Ima Hogg was given many state and national awards for her work in historic preservation and other causes.  In 1969, Quitman established a museum to honor her many works.  She continued to travel and to stay active with her many charities until her passing in 1975 at age 93, leaving a legacy of restoration and beauty for Texas.

Ken Bridges

Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at drkenbridges@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.