Monday, April 12, 2021


 As an author, naming my characters is an important step for me. I take great care in selecting just the right moniker. After penning 70 something books with many supporting actors, I have selected several hundred names. I pour over baby name sites, I take note of people’s names I hear in public. I even read movie credits for ideas. Some names I reject outright – they may sound weak to me or remind me of someone I don’t like very much. When I owned a publishing company, I forced an author to rename her heroine in a book strictly because the name once belonged to someone who wronged me. I suspect this feeling explains why we have very few babies saddled with the names of Adolph or Judas. Regardless, sometimes a beloved, strong, beautiful heroine can have a very unfortunate name. This truth certainly applies to the historical Texas figure I would like to introduce you to today, Miss Ima Hogg.

Can you think of a worse handle to be hung with? As a chubby human, I probably wouldn’t have survived the bullying. Yet, this gracious woman bore her cross with extreme grace.

She was born in 1882 in Mineola, Texas, a small town located east of Dallas and north of Canton, the home of the world’s largest flea market. The second of four children, she was the only daughter of Sarah Stinson and Jim Hogg. The Hoggs were a family who celebrated public service. Thomas Hogg, her great-grandfather, served in the state legislatures of three states – Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Her grandfather, Joseph Lewis Hogg, served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas and was one of the authors of the Texas State Constitution.  When Ima was four, her father, a lawyer and former DA, was elected Texas Attorney General. They moved to Austin where Ima was enrolled in kindergarten. Four years later, in 1890, Jim Hogg was the first native born Texan to be elected governor of the state. They moved into the Governor’s Mansion in January of 1891. Built in 1855, the mansion had been allowed to run down. The Hogg family saw to its restoration. Ima did her part. Among her duties was to pry chewing gum from the furniture and door facings.

Ima and her brothers were rowdy little youngsters. She particularly favored sliding down the bannisters at the Governor’s Mansion. Her parents overlooked this rambunctious pastime until brother Thomas cut his chin. In response to the accident, Big Jim nailed tacks down the center of the railing, a fairly strong deterrent – ouch! The holes from these remained visible in the bannisters for decades.


Here is a photo of the governor’s mansion today.

Ima and her brothers loved animals and their own private little zoo included dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, birds, a parrot, and a Shetland pony. They often would conduct a mini circus on the grounds of the mansion – until Ima was caught charging each visitor five cents. Big Jim made her return the money and directed the children to keep their entertainment private or free. Later, they added a bear, a fawn, a cockatoo and two ostriches named Jack and Jill. Ima would ride Jill until Will hit it with a slingshot, causing her to take a rather traumatic spill.

As a funny aside, one of the first examples of ‘fake news’ – a term I abhor, by the way – was two journalists who wrote a tongue in cheek piece about Governor Hogg and Senator William Jennings Bryan having an ostrich race. This notorious event was supposed to be routed from the Texas Capitol south down Congress Avenue to the Colorado River. Of course, knowing the Hogg’s owned Jack and Jill gave credence to the report. However, the journalist thought it would be obvious the article was all in fun because Big Jim weighed over 300 pounds and no ostrich alive could bear his weight. After much hoopla, nationwide attention, and bets being laid – the article had to be redacted, corrected, and an explanation given. In 2002, children’s authors Margaret Olivia McManis and Bruce Dupree published a picture book called Ima and the Great Texas Ostrich Race, a fictionalized account where Ima was the one who rode the ostrich. If she’d lived to see this, she probably would’ve purchased a copy.   

This is a photo of Ima’s father, the 20th Governor of Texas. 

Considering the title of this article, I’d like to stop in recounting the facts of her life and talk about her name. As one who takes the business of selecting a name so seriously, it is hard for me to imagine a father making such a selection. I’ve witnessed parents testing out names with great care, especially if the last name is a problem one. For example, take the last name Butts or Butt. I’ve personally known several people by the name. I worked for a John Butts when I was an accountant in Beaumont. The most famous of the Butt family in our area is the founder of the hugely successful grocery chain HEB. The letters H-E-B stand for his name, Harold Edward Butts, but for some reason, his family chose to call him by the nickname Harry. See this sentence copied straight from the Wikipedia article on the man.

Howard "Harry" Butt was youngest of the three sons born to Charles Butt, a pharmacist from Memphis and Florence Thornton Butt.[1] The family moved to the drier climate of Kerrville, Texas due to his father's tuberculosis, and in 1905, his mother opened a small grocery store below their apartment. 

****My readers please note the town Kerrville – home of the Hell Yeah! McCoy Ranch. YAY!

Anyway, if I were Florence, I would not have chosen Harold as my son’s name – with the distinct possibility of it being shortened to Harry. I probably would've gone with something like Kevin or Keith. More than likely, I would’ve turned down Charles’ proposal of marriage.

Anyway, back to Ima.

Even today, she is still known as The First Lady of Texas. Every governor’s wife who came along after her father left the office has had to live in the shadow of Ima Hogg. (Ha! I first typed Ima Butts, which would’ve been another unfortunate choice.) She might’ve been given an unfortunate name, but she did not lead an unfortunate life. Ima was a leader of American society, a famed philanthropist, a patron and collector of the arts, and an advocate of civil rights and mental health issues. She donated works by Picasso, Klee, and Matisse to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and was asked by President Eisenhower to serve on the committee to create the Kennedy Center in Washington. She also served at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy on a task force to locate historical furniture for the White House.

I will mention other of her accomplishments a little later – right now, back to that name. Ima Hogg. After her birth, Ima’s father wrote to his brother, “Our cup of joy is now overflowing! We have a daughter of as fine proportions and of as angelic mien as ever gracious nature favor a man with, and her name is Ima!

Ima, as well as her family, always insisted that her father, Big Jim Hogg, didn’t get the connotation of the combined effect of her first and last names. If he could’ve seen into the future at the merciless heckling she would receive – surely he would’ve chosen differently.

Yet, the name, Ima, was taken from a poem written by her uncle, Thomas Hogg, called The Fate of Marvin, an epic Civil War poem. When word spread through the family of the name’s selection, and news spread slowly in those days – her grandfather Stinson rode his horse fifteen miles to stop the christening, but he didn’t make it in time.  Her older brother, William, oft came home from school with a black eye or a bloody nose from defending her ‘good name’. She bore it as proudly as she could until a few months before her death when she insisted people start calling her Imogene. Her final passport read Ima Imogene Hogg.

She always strove to downplay her unusual name by signing it illegibly and having her personal stationary labeled simply, Miss Hogg. A rumor persisted throughout her life that she had a sister named Ura Hogg, but this was not true. Throughout her life she received letters asking her this inane question, yet she always replied in the negative with grace and dignity.

Her father left public office in 1895 and shortly thereafter, her mother came down with tuberculosis. She died the same year. There is also great evidence that Sarah, Ima’s mother, suffered with depression and Ima succumbed to the same terrible malady after her mother passed. She also endured another bout with mental illness after the stress of the 1918 flu pandemic. I guess we can all relate to this. As a sufferer of anxiety disorder myself, I know how a person’s outlook on mental problems can change – after you experience it personally. I can attest to the fact that I did not fully understand the condition until it hit me like a ton of bricks. I used to think those diagnosed with mental illness were weak or lacking in some way. Now, I know your mind can do some strange things to you. Even when I could sit down and say, ‘nothing is wrong with you’, I could not prevent the feelings I faced. My outlook has changed. So did Ima’s. After watching her mother suffer and suffering herself, she put her money where her mouth was and in later years donated millions to the University of Texas in Austin to create the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, an organization that is still doing great work today.

After her mother’s death, Ima became her father’s hostess in all of his political and business dealings. She took her duties seriously and performed with aplomb and grace. In 1898, she traveled with Big Jim to Hawaii where they met Queen Liliuokalani and attended the ceremony when Hawaii became the 49th state in the United States. Once they prepared to return to the mainland, they were scheduled to sail to Seattle. Demonstrating a distinct psychic ability, at the last minute, Ima sobbed and refused to board the ship. She begged her father to book them other accommodations because of an ‘awful feeling’. He gave in and they took another ship to California – where they learned the original vessel was lost at sea with no survivors.

Good call, Ima.  

One of Ima’s many gifts was music. She’d begun taking lessons at the tender age of three. These lessons continued at a private school before she enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin where she also studied German, Old English, and Psychology. She oft commented that ‘no college freshman was even more immature, more unprepared, or more frightened than I’. Apparently, she quickly recovered. She helped inaugurate the first sorority on the UT campus. After studying two years in Austin, 1899 to 1901, she then moved to New York City to train at the National Conservatory of Music.

Her time in New York came to an end when her father was injured in a train accident in 1905. Ima moved home to nurse him back to health, but he succumbed to his injuries when she discovered him dead in bed in March of 1906. After his death, she traveled to Vienna, Austria to study under famed musician, Xavier Scharwenka. Upon her return to Texas, she taught music for nine years. One of her pupils was concert pianist, Jacques Abram. She also worked to establish and manage the Houston Symphony Orchestra, serving as President of the Symphony Society for a dozen years.

Before Big Jim’s death, he’d bought a property located southwest of Houston called the Varner Estate, a 4600-acre farm that raised cotton, sugar cane, and cattle.

 He was convinced there was oil on the land – and he was right, but it wasn’t discovered until 14 years after his death. Prior to the search for oil, Ima and her brothers wanted to sell the place – until it was discovered Big Jim’s will stipulated that the property could not be sold until 15 years after his death. Good thing – when drilling was done and the wells came in, Ima and her brothers became very wealthy indeed. Unlike some, they used the money wisely. Because of their generosity, at their feet can be laid the credit for the 1600-acre urban Memorial park in downtown Houston, the Houston Arboretum and Nature Conservatory, River Oaks, and Bayou Bend Museum of Fine Arts. All gifts to the people of Texas


They also made the real estate deal that gave Houston Bayou Place, City Hall, the downtown public library, Jones Hall, Jones Plaza, the Hobby Center, and the entire Houston Theater District.

Ima herself founded the Houston Child Guidance Center, as well as the aforementioned Hogg Foundation of Mental Health. She successfully ran for a seat on the Houston School Board in 1943 where she worked to remove gender and race as a criteria for determining pay. She also created art education programs for African American students. When she died in 1975, the Ima Hogg Foundation was the major beneficiary of her will and carries on her work today. Sadly, Ima never married – although she wasn’t without romantic attention, having received over 30 marriage proposals. She just never followed through with any advances. Ima once told someone that she had a fatal attraction to handsome men, but she knew she’d choose unwisely. This probably wasn’t the truth. A more likely version of the story was the fact her brother convinced Ima that she’d inherited mental illness from her mother and if she married, she’d pass the malady on to her children. Ima was most likely too afraid of the possibility to risk it.  

Here is a photo of Ima and another lady riding in a flower covered carriage for the No-Tsu-Oh Festival – (Houston spelled backwards, by the way) – Houston’s used to be version of a Mardi Gras parade.

Long time friend, David Warren, the first curator of Bayou Bend described Ima as ‘small, dainty, and feminine – smart, sharp, and knowledgeable – all rolled into one. This is a description any of us would be proud to own.

All of her life, she maintained a conscientious effort to dignify other people. For example, one morning in 1914, Ima was awakened by someone coming into her room. She discovered a burglar attempting to steal her jewelry. Instead of calling the police, she talked the man into giving her back the jewelry, then proceeded to write down a name and address so he could go out and get a job she promised to arrange. When asked why she would take such a risk, she replied that he didn’t appear to be a bad man. Now, this is not to say she wasn’t human. Although a woman of unfailing politeness, she did have her adversaries. One of them was another pianist by the name of Arthur Rubinstein, who oddly enough was commissioned to entertain at her 90th birthday party. Prior to this, he’d referred to her as a tiresome old woman and she responded by referring to him as a pompous old man.

All in all, Ima was a generous benefactor, who believed inherited money was a public trust, especially money gained from the reserves of the land. She has been described as compassionate by nature, progressive in her outlook, concerned with the welfare of all Texans, a zealous proponent of mental health care, and committed to public education.

Ima died on August 19, 1975 at the age of 93 from a heart attack. She’d been in London at the time and fell getting into a taxi. She died in a London hospital a day or two later, reportedly not from the fall. It’s odd though how often these types of traumas will bring on other health events that prove deadly. Upon receiving word of her passing, the University of Texas here in Austin declared two days of mourning and flew all flags at half-staff. She is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin and her work lives on.

During her life she received many accolades, honors, and recognitions. One of the ones I think would’ve meant the most to her was given in 1963 by a former Governor of Texas named Allan Shivers. He presented her with the University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Award, the first woman thus honored – and said this about Miss Ima:

"Some people create history, some record it, and some restore and conserve it. She has done all three." Not so bad for a heroine with an unfortunate name.

Thank you for listening – watch for a new release of mine – the revamped, restored, and rejuvenated A WISHNG MOON. What was once a paranormal erotic romance, is now a cozy mystery! By the way, the heroine’s name is a pretty one…Arabella Landry.

Thanks for reading my ramblings,

Love, Sable  

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1 comment:

Julie Lence said...

What a fascinating lady! And I'm like you, if I don't like the name I can't relate to the character.