Ima Hogg was born July 10, 1882, in Mineola, Texas, a railroad town where her father James, an attorney for the Seventh District of Texas, was gaining a reputation as a crusading litigator against “the interests” and becoming a major player in the state Democratic Party.
While James Hogg inhabited the rough and tumble world of public life, Ima’s mother, Sallie Stinson Hogg, served the traditional 19th-century role of “civilizing force” in the home, imbuing her children with good morals and good taste in everything from furnishings to manners. Ima’s parents named her in honor of James’ oldest brother, Thomas Elisha Hogg, a Civil War veteran and poet. “Ima” was a heroine in “The Fate of Marvin,” Thomas’ epic poem about the war.
In 1886, the family moved to Austin, where Ima would spend the remainder of her childhood and adolescence. While Ima came of age, her father embarked upon a political career during which he served as Texas attorney general, leader of the Texas Democratic Party, and Texas governor (1890-1895). Ima's father, the first native-born Texan to be elected governor, earned a reputation for stirring public addresses, which often advocated on behalf of “the little man” against big railroads, banks, and insurance companies.
The family’s tenure in the governor’s mansion exposed Ima Hogg to numerous experiences that would shape her long life. She observed political life at close range; learned to appreciate fine furnishings and antiques while helping her mother renovate the dilapidated mansion; took private music lessons from a German tutor; and traveled several times with her father on state business (including a trip to New York City).
Among these trips were numerous visits to “schools for the blind and deaf” and “prisons for mentally ill people.” According to one biographer, “Jim Hogg had great compassion for these individuals, and he read research on mental problems in hopes that one day they could be cured.”
This aspiration was characteristic of the Progressive era and marked a break with the custodial model of the nineteenth century mental asylum. Emboldened by the emergence of the social and behavioral sciences, Progressives believed that they could develop “cures” and controls for formerly intractable forms of mental illness. Her father’s visits with individual patients, as well as “convicts in their jail cells,” made a deep impression on Ima, as she recalled later in a 1970 interview:
I was also very much interested in mentally ill people in hospitals… My father was very interested, also… And often I went through with him and I’d hear him say to the superintendent or the doctor, "What can be done for these people? What are you doing?” And then I used to sit with them, many of them, and entertain them. I enjoyed talking with a lot of them, and they were all so homesick. They’d say they didn’t belong there – their families sent them because they wanted to get rid of them… that was always in the wards where they weren’t so mentally ill… they were disturbed people, melancholy people. I used to visit a great deal at the asylum. And I had little girl friends out there, you know, at the asylum where they had children… I was at the hospital all the time… I was free to go into the wards any time I wanted to.
These visits were cut short by tragedy. In 1895, Sallie Stinson Hogg’s health began a precipitous decline that caused James Hogg to leave public office for more profitable work in a private law practice. That summer, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a deadly disease at that time. Ima, who was 13, accompanied her mother to a relative’s home in Colorado, where it was hoped the dry air would improve her condition. Ima’s mother tried to prepare her to take on a caregiving role for her brothers, while also urging Ima to pursue her education.
Sallie Stinson Hogg passed away on September 20, 1895, with her family at her bedside in Colorado. This tragic event ended the first of several extended periods for Ima of caring for dying loved ones. After her father’s death in 1906, Ima experienced a deep depression that was allayed by long visits to New York City and Europe. Her continued study of music, which she came to see an essential constituent of her mental health, gave Ima her first experience with philanthropy.
In 1913, Ima organized the first Houston Symphony, and she began prolonged fundraising and publicity campaigns. According to her biographers, Ima cultivated an attitude about the symphony that was at once populist and avant-garde. She “composed dissonant music,” purchased several pieces of then-controversial European modern art, and built a substantial collection of American Indian art. Later in life, she sponsored music programs for under-served children, and often insisted that the symphony should belong to the masses as well as the classes. Like many modern women of her generation, Ima Hogg intuitively included the arts in her understanding of mental health, once saying that “anything that contributes to a wholesome life is mental health.”
Ima Hogg appears to have encountered the mental hygiene movement shortly after World War I, when she became one of the victims of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Her doctors interpreted some after-effects, including a bad case of insomnia, as “nervous exhaustion” and sent Ima to see a neurologist in Philadelphia.
She visited the psychiatrist Austin Riggs in Massachusetts, who connected her to the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (NCMH), an organization committed to the prevention of mental illness and a treatment regime based in the community rather than the asylum. Riggs also pointed her toward the Commonwealth Fund, a Rockefeller-supported charity that set up child guidance demonstration clinics in several American cities (including Dallas) during the 1920s.
In 1925, the NCMH conducted a statewide mental hygiene survey for the Texas Legislature that called for more guidance clinics and academic programs to staff clinics, hospitals, and public schools with trained professionals. By the late 1920s, then, Ima Hogg was involved in the national mental hygiene movement, aware that Texas was awakening to its shortcomings in mental health, and experienced in organizing and fundraising for philanthropic enterprises. These were the conditions under which she founded the Houston Child Guidance Clinic in 1929.
Another family tragedy would lead Ima to apply these new ideas with even greater impact. The sudden passing of her older brother Will C. Hogg in 1930 left Ima and her brother Mike with a large family estate and broad directives about how to dispose of it. Remembering her many long talks with Will about mental health, Ima convinced her brother Mike that Will’s estate should be directed toward an endowment for a mental health foundation at his beloved alma mater, The University of Texas. And so began, as UT President Homer Rainey would state at the Hogg Foundation’s inaugural ceremony in February 1941, “some real history in the making.”