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The Governor's Daughter
By Virginia Bernhard
Texas State Historical AssociationCopyright © 2011 Virginia Bernhard
All rights reserved.
At three minutes past five o'clock on the afternoon of August 14, 1975, the London rush hour traffic had begun to clog the wide lanes of Brompton Road, and a chilly rain was falling. In the crowds of pedestrians, umbrellas began to sprout like so many black mushrooms. The two women who had just finished shopping at Harrods had no umbrella, and they waved in vain at several taxis before one with its "For Hire" flag up pulled over to the curb. As the women hurried to get inside, the vehicle suddenly rolled forward, and the unexpected movement threw one of them off balance. A younger and nimbler person might have avoided injury, but the one climbing into the cab that rainy afternoon was Miss Ima Hogg, age ninety-three. The trim London Fog trench coat and the soft felt hat atop carefully coiffed hair belied her years, but her movements were, as she herself confessed, no longer agile.
Although Ima Hogg's zest for travel was as keen as it had been at sixteen when she and her father, Texas governor James Stephen Hogg, had sailed to Hawaii to watch the United States flag raised over the islands in 1898, she had made a few concessions to age. One was the collapsible wheelchair beside her on the pavement. Of late she had taken to using it to conserve her strength on long excursions, and she found it indispensable for travel. Waiting in a ticket line in front of Albert Hall, she napped in it; wheeling around the National Gallery, she rolled cheerily past throngs of footsore tourists; shopping in it at Harrods or at Fortnum & Mason, gesturing regally with her cane, she seldom waited long for service. This afernoon she and her traveling companion, Yvonne Coates, had gone to Harrods to look for some tortoiseshell combs for her hair, but they had not found exactly what they wanted.
Now Ima Hogg had fallen under the open door of the taxi and could not get up. As the frantic cab driver summoned an ambulance and Mrs. Coates tried to make her as comfortable as she could be, lying on the pavement in the rain, she reclined on the curb, her hat still at its original jaunty angle and her self-possession undamaged. "Don't worry," she said, "I can't move just now, but it's going to be all right." Passersby had begun to surround them. An elderly man selling flowers from a pushcart around the corner brought the tarpaulin cover from his cart to tuck around her. A well-dressed gentleman in a dark suit and a bowler hat stopped and held his large black umbrella over her. Ima Hogg thanked them graciously in her soft Southern accent, as though they were offering her a parasol and a chair at a garden party.
Five days later, on Tuesday, August 19, in London's Westminster Hospital, Ima Hogg died. Although she had survived surgery on her fractured hip, in the end her heart failed. To a friend who had recently cautioned her about the hazards of transatlantic travel for a nonagenarian, she had said lightly, "When you're ninety-three, it doesn't matter where you die." In Houston, where Ima Hogg had lived for more than six decades, the Houston Post announced her death with a front-page banner headline. The same afternoon the Houston Chronicle carried the story of her death under page-one headlines and a four-column picture of her in evening clothes arriving at a Houston Symphony opening. Across the rest of the nation, 291 other papers noted the passing of Ima Hogg. It was certainly not the first time she had been in the news. The New York Times Charlotte Curtis had once said of her, "She is to Houston what Alice Roosevelt Longworth is to Washington and Mrs. Lytle Hull to New York." Time magazine had called her "Empress of the Symphony" and "one of the grandest of all musical grandes dames in the U.S."
In Houston a grieving staff at Bayou Bend, the American Decorative Arts Wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, made mournful preparations for a funeral service. Bayou Bend, a pink stucco mansion on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, had been Ima Hogg's home for nearly forty years. She had not intended for the house to become a museum, but in the late 1950s she had had to make a decision: "I had been collecting American furniture. I collected, and collected, and collected, until I had so much of it I didn't know what to do with it. I decided to give it as a museum. I said I would; they said they would take it—if I endowed it. I wasn't smart. I said, 'All right, if you'll match me.' But they didn't." So she gave it anyway.
Ima Hogg spent half a century putting together the Bayou Bend Collection, creating a museum that is said by some to be second only to Henry Francis du Pont's Winterthur. ("Oh, my, what I could do if I had his money!" she once said.) Along the way, she also managed to found the Houston Symphony Society (1913), establish the Houston Child Guidance Clinic (1929), organize the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health (1940), and win election to the Houston Board of Education (1943), where she initiated the Houston Symphony's student concerts and worked to establish art programs in the city's then-segregated black high schools. In her seventies and eighties she restored and gave to the State of Texas several antebellum buildings, including a plantation house at West Columbia and a stagecoach inn near Round Top, personally directing the restoration of all of them down to the last hand-hewn nail. Always self-effacing, sometimes shy, she would never admit that she had been the driving force in the cultural life of a city and a state for the greater part of the twentieth century.
"As the physical needs of the state are being fulfilled," Ima Hogg once said, "(I know you can't ask a starving child to paint a pretty picture) we need to think more about the things that make life worth living, the nourishing of the spirit." Her own contributions to that nourishment were rich and varied. The paintings, the lithographs and sketches, the Indian artifacts and dolls she collected over the years and gave to the Museum of Fine Arts; the treasures of American decorative art and the gardens at Bayou Bend; the concerts by the Houston Symphony; the University of Texas center for Texas history and ethnic studies at the old German community of Winedale in the Hill Country are only part of Ima Hogg's efforts "to make life worth living."
She was concerned not only with the nourishing of the spirit but with the health of the mind as well. Looking back on her many interests, she said in 1974 that the one that had given her the most pleasure was her part in establishing the Houston Child Guidance Clinic. The clinic was designed to provide counseling and therapy for children with emotional problems, and it now offers individual and group treatment for children ages one to eighteen and their families. In addition, the Ima Hogg Therapeutic School now provides a one-to-one teacher-pupil ratio for students who are unable to learn in a conventional classroom setting.
Ima Hogg always liked a project with tangible, immediate results, whether it happened to be the restoration of an old house or the rehabilitation of a disturbed child. In 1940 she established the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin. It was not just for research, she insisted, but for helping people directly. One of the foundation's early projects was to send lecturers on mental health to the small towns and rural areas of Texas. Ima Hogg envisioned these speakers as a "new type of circuit rider" who would bring the latest scientific knowledge to people who might otherwise never hear about it. Mental health was a subject that had fascinated Ima Hogg since the turn of the century, when, as a coed at the University of Texas, she had studied psychology with Dr. A. Caswell Ellis. While her father, James Stephen Hogg, was governor of Texas from 1891 to 1895, she had occasionally visited state institutions for the mentally ill, and she had never forgotten what she saw. Years afterward, when time and resources permitted, she resolved to do what she could to advance the cause of mental health in Texas.
From 1940 until her death in 1975, Ima Hogg maintained an active interest in the work of the Hogg Foundation, and that organization, like the Houston Symphony Orchestra and Bayou Bend, owes much to her remarkable dedication and energy. "She was never idle—never," her nurse-companion, Yvonne Coates, recalled several years after her death. Even in her nineties she kept Jane Zivley, her personal secretary for twenty-five years, busy from eight to five Monday through Friday and from one to two on Saturdays. In spare moments she kept a watchful eye on the helter-skelter growth of Houston, opposing the building of a stadium here, campaigning for the preservation of hundred-year-old oak trees there, and refusing to allow drilling for oil in Memorial Park, a gift from the Hogg family to the City of Houston. She wrote letters to congressmen and city councilmen and newspaper editors on subjects ranging from the need for a new concert hall to a suggestion for a day of prayer for world peace. On December 1, 1950, she sent a telegram to senators Lyndon Johnson and Tom Connally: "Please plead against use of atomic bomb. We must consider future. Protest such terrible example would act as boomerang bringing untold destruction to ourselves and entire world."
In cultural affairs Ima Hogg was devoted to the Houston Symphony Orchestra, serving twelve terms as Symphony Society president and pronouncing shrewdly and knowledgeably on affairs both artistic and financial. Nothing was too small or too large for her concern, from the supply of Coca-Cola in the Music Hall lobby to the last-minute replacement of a disaffected conductor with Sir Thomas Beecham: "He was very gracious. We feel elated," she said modestly. It was Ima Hogg in later years who was mainly responsible for luring Leopold Stokowski and Sir John Barbirolli to the Houston podium. "I was not," she once remarked, "going to have a one-horse orchestra." When Houston's newspaper critics were less than complimentary to the symphony on occasion, she berated them for impeding its progress. Ann Holmes, fine arts editor of the Houston Chronicle, recalled an early encounter with the symphony's staunchest defender: "She invited me to her house, sat me in a chair, turned a bright lamp in my face, and grilled me." When Houston Post critic Carl Cunningham wrote an unfavorable review just before a symphony maintenance fund drive, Miss Ima gave him a ceremonial whack with her cane, saying, "How dare you do that to us!"
Although Ima Hogg herself refrained from passing artistic judgment on the symphony in public, in private she was its most exacting critic. In fact, as she grew older, symphonygoers within hearing distance of her box might hear an irascible whisper that the second movement of the Eroica was too slow or that the strings in the Brahms Fourth were a bit ragged. But she never interfered in the artistic side, and she never questioned the programming. If anything, her preferences ran to the modern, the avant garde. "There was nothing old-fashioned about Miss Ima," Tom M. Johnson, the Houston Symphony's general manager from 1948 to 1973, once said. "In the early 1950s, when the Dave Brubeck jazz quartet first came here for a concert, she went. The next time I saw her she said, 'And where were you at the Brubeck concert?'" In the 1960s Ima Hogg startled some of her friends by becoming an avid Beatles fan. In the 1970s, conductor Lawrence Foster, criticized for programming too much atonal modern music, remarked wryly that Miss Ima, then in her eighties, was the only one who appreciated it.
In 1972, in her ninetieth year, the Houston Symphony paid tribute to Ima Hogg with a special birthday concert. There was champagne and cake; Arthur Rubinstein played the piano; and three thousand people sang "Happy Birthday." Miss Ima, resplendent in a brocade gown of pale apricot and silver and wearing antique aquamarine jewelry, spoke briefly. She thanked the audience for their continuing support of the orchestra and for the party, adding, "I feel, however, it is I who should have given the party in honor of you." Earlier in the day her household staff had fussed over her because she had a bad cold and they feared she would not be able to make her appearance. "It will be all right," she said. "I don't have to sing."
Afterward there was a party with Rubinstein, who was then nearly ninety himself, as Ima Hogg's dinner partner. They smiled, they chatted, they posed for dozens of photographs. Privately, however, neither was much impressed by the other. Before the gala evening began, the irrepressible Rubinstein had confided to an associate: "I had to sit next to Ima Hogg last year at an awards ceremony at Southwestern University. She's a tiresome old woman, isn't she?" Said Ima Hogg about Arthur Rubinstein, some while after the dinner party, "What a pompous old man!" In 1975, when Vladimir Horowitz playedan Easter Sunday concert in Houston, Miss Ima appeared backstage afterward with a small package. It was, she said, "a little present for Mr. Horowitz. Such a nice man. Not at all like that Mr. Rubinstein."
There was one thing, however, that Arthur Rubinstein and Ima Hogg had in common: a fine disregard for advancing old age. John F. Staub, the architect who designed Bayou Bend in the late 1920s and who was Ima Hogg's close friend for nearly fifty years afterward, said that she "just flowered" in later life: "She was younger at her death, Ima was, than when I first knew her." When Staub and Miss Ima first met, she was somewhat shy and retiring. In later years, however, the mistress of Bayou Bend became at once more imperious and more adventuresome. "When you're as old as I am," she announced at age ninety-two, "you can do anything you want to!" In her eighties, she climbed up into an old church balcony in Round Top to play the organ; in her nineties, outfitted in rose-colored culottes, she pedaled a tricycle down the hall of her apartment building to cheer up a convalescing friend. Attending a museum board meeting, she brought along her Chihuahua dog, Ludie (for Ludwig von Beethoven), and sat with him on her lap. Watching the circus, she demanded to meet the lion tamer. Traveling in Germany in her nineties, she refused to hire a car and opted instead to climb on and off buses with the rest of the tourists. Waiting at Kennedy International Airport, she accosted a young man with shoulder-length hair: "Young man, would you mind talking to me?" she began. "I find your hair most attractive...." As it happened, the young man was a musician from Boston, and the two had an agreeable chat, each charmed by the other.
As she grew older Ima Hogg continued to follow an itinerary that would have taxed a person half her years, making annual rounds of Europe's museums and concert halls (a gala ninetieth-birthday celebration at Round Top in the summer of 1972 had to be held early because she would be sailing on the Queen Elizabeth 2 on July 10, her actual birthday); flying to New York to visit the Steinway piano factory to select the concert grand she presented to the Houston Symphony; hunting for Early American antiques in New England (on her way to London in 1975 she had detoured to Boston to see the Paul Revere exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts and to lunch with her longtime friend, curator Jonathan Fairbanks); and driving around Texas to do research on her memoirs. An account of her early years as the only daughter of Governor James Stephen Hogg—the beginning of what might have been her autobiography—lies unfinished among her personal papers. It was to have been her next project when she returned from Europe. A friend had cautioned Yvonne Coates when Ima Hogg engaged her as a companion: "Ima," she said, "will wear you out." From 1913 until her death, she kept a daybook with an hourly schedule of appointments and activities. It was seldom blank.
Ima Hogg delighted in the practical (at ninety, she bought a green wool pantsuit with a matching beret for travel) and in the efficient (when individual packets of instant soup appeared on the market she kept a constant supply, calling it "paper soup"). When wigs became fashionable she wore one with great amusement over her own light blonde hair. Elegantly and stylishly dressed (she was fond of hats and soft pale colors that set off her fair complexion and vivid blue eyes) and, despite her diminutive five-foot-two-inch height, imposing of manner ("Audiences at concerts parted before her like the Red Sea," said a friend), Ima Hogg was the nearest thing Texas had to royalty. An invitation to her home, as Tom Johnson once observed, was "like an invitation to Buckingham Palace."
Excerpted from Ima Hogg by Virginia Bernhard. Copyright © 2011 Virginia Bernhard. Excerpted by permission of Texas State Historical Association.
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