Texas women have been immortalized by song, stereotyped in film, and made legendary by myth. From Denton to Dime Box, Big Spring to Beaumont and from Harlingen to Haskell, Texas women are as diverse as the state itself. They have made invaluable contributions as writers, activists, politicians, athletes, and actresses. Although we can’t recognize them all, we would like to tip our hats to 30 of the greatest.
Pioneers and Heroines
1. Jane Long (1798-1880) Jane Long will always be remembered as the mother of Texas. One of the earliest pioneers to make Texas her home, it is believed that she was one of the first English-speaking women to bear a child in Texas. Migrating from Mississippi at the beginning of the 19th Century, she and her husband, James Long, settled at Bolivar Point. Jane was left there with daughter Ann while James went to join the fight for independence from Spain. While others began to evacuate the area Jane remained. “My husband left me here to wait for him and I shall stay until he returns,” she said. Her husband never returned. Upon learning the news that he had been killed in Mexico City, Jane moved her family to Brazoria where she opened a prosperous boarding house that was frequented by such prominent characters as William Barrett Travis. Long’s boarding house was used as a meeting place before the war, and it is said that Stephen F. Austin delivered an impassioned speech calling Texans to war under her roof.
2. Angelina Eberly (1798-1860) In 1842, in the midst of the Archive War, president Sam Houston ordered three wagon loads of state archives moved to Houston ostensibly to protect them from the Mexican Army who had re-taken control of San Antonio, Goliad, and Victoria. His real aim was to begin quietly moving the capital to Houston. It was Eberly who took a bead on the escaping document thieves and fired a six-pounder across their path, thereby alerting the citizenry. A vigilante posse was quickly formed and Houston’s henchmen were relieved of the archives at gunpoint just beyond Brushy Creek in nearby Williamson County.
3. Susana Dickinson (ca 1814-1883) Susana Dickinson or “The Lady of the Alamo” is said to be the only Anglo survivor at the battle of the Alamo. She experienced every hour of the two-week-long siege alongside the defenders. Her husband, Almaron Dickinson, took both Susana and their child into the fortress so that they could be near him during the ensuing battle. The Dickinsons moved into the Alamo on February 23, 1836. After the battle of the Alamo, she was found in the powder magazine. Shortly thereafter she was interviewed by Santa Anna, who sent Susana to Gonzalez to inform the Texans that he would ‘put down all resistance,’ and unless they surrendered they would suffer the same fate as those at the Alamo. It is said that upon delivering this message Susana sent, not a note of warning, but rather a battle cry for Texans to rally.
4. Clara Driscoll (1881-1945) and Adina De Zavala (1861-1955) Although it is Clara Driscoll who retains the title, “Savior of the Alamo,” it was the work of both she and Adina De Zavala that kept the Alamo from being razed in the early part of the 20th century. It was 1904 and although the state had purchased the chapel, the long barracks of the Alamo were in jeopardy. A grocery wholesaler was interested in a portion of the Alamo grounds and Adina De Zavala was determined to keep it from falling into corporate hands. In a last ditch effort, Adina attempted to meet with the proprietors of the Menger Hotel in downtown San Antonio. They were out of town, but the hotel informed her that a Miss Clara Driscoll was a guest at the hotel. Driscoll, herself a dedicated preservationist, took an interest in Adina’s crusade. The result was a handsome sum of Clara’s own money put forth to purchase the Alamo. Both ladies worked tirelessly to preserve historical sites around the state, but will always be remembered most for their role of saving the Alamo.
5. Dale Evans (1912-2001) If you have ever heard the tune Happy Trails and were reminded of the famous cowboy Roy Rogers, you are missing half of the picture. It was Dale Evans who wrote this signature song and taught it to Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers a mere 40 minutes before a performance one evening. Dale Evans, originally from Uvalde, Texas, married Roy Rogers in 1947, and spent the next 41 years with him both on and off the silver screen.
6. Sissy Spacek (b. 1949) Although her official movie debut was in Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut in 1972, her breakthrough role was the lead in Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie, which garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Born and raised in the northeast Texas town of Quitman, she originally aspired to become a singer and moved to New York where she landed gigs in Greenwich Village coffee houses billing herself as “Rainbo.” Anyone who has seen her memorable portrayal of Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter in 1980, which earned her an Oscar, will know that a singing career wasn’t too far off the mark. After taking time off to concentrate on raising her kids, she continues to turn in award-winning performances like her role in the recent Golden Globe-garnering In The Bedroom.
7. Janis Joplin (1943-1970) Often considered one of the greatest white women to ever sing the blues, Janis Joplin had a brief yet prolific career. Born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, she was said to develop a ‘taste’ for the blues at an early age. Just after graduating high school she quickly made her way to Austin where she worked the club circuit playing at such well-known venues as Threadgill’s. She eventually moved west to San Francisco where she delivered a show stopping performance at the Monterey pop festival. She soon gained national recognition for her distinctive style and unforgettable voice. Joplin’s career was cut short when she died of a heroin overdose.
8. Selena (1971-1995 ) A bronze statue of the late Tejano singer, Selena Quintanilla-Perez, stands quietly near the waterfront in Corpus Christi, Texas. Just beneath the statue is an inscription which reads, “Her stage is now silent. Yet, her persona enriched the lives of those she touched and her music lives on …” Selena was one of the first crossover artists, achieving wide success on both the pop and Tejano charts. Born in Lake Jackson, Texas, Selena became involved in the music industry at a very young age. In 1981 the band Selena y Los Dinos was formed and their first record was produced two years later. Selena went on to receive a double platinum award and a Grammy for Selena Live and a quadruple platinum award for Amor Prohibido. At the height of her career Selena was murdered by her assistant, Yolonda Saldivar, on March 31, 1995. The film Selena, which documents the singer’s short life, was released in 1997, and one of her signature ensembles was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American history in Washington, D.C.
9. Elisabet Ney (1833-1907) Originally from Germany, Elisabet studied sculpture in both Munich and Berlin and gained a reputation as a talented sculptor, sculpting the likenesses of such prominent individuals as Queen Victoria and George V. Elisabet immigrated to the United States at the time of the Franco-Prussian war, initially moving to Georgia, but ultimately settling in Liendo, Texas. She eventually discovered Austin and built a studio in Austin’s Hyde Park, naming it Formosa after the name of her former studio in Germany. Eventually it was renovated and turned into the Elisabet Ney museum. It is said that Elisabet’s arrival to Austin marked the birth of serious art in Texas. In 1903 marble statues of both Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston were unveiled in a ceremony at the state capital. Elisabeth Ney was commissioned by former Governor Oran M. Roberts to sculpt statues of the founding fathers of Texas heroes.
10. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) Although not a native Texan, Georgia O’Keeffe was influenced by the wide-open plains of the Texas landscape, reflected in much of her art. O’Keeffe taught art in the public school system in Amarillo from 1912-1914 and then taught at West Texas State Normal College (West Texas A&M University) in Canyon, Texas, from 1916-1918. It is said that at least 50 of her paintings were composed during the period of 1916-1918 while in Canyon. Some of her most famous Texas paintings include: the Light Coming on the Plains series, the Evening Star series, and Painting No. 21.
11. Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911-1956) “The Amazing Amazon,” “Belting Babe,” “The Texas Tomboy,” and “The Texas Babe” are just a few of the nicknames that Mildred Ella Didrikson adopted in her long and varied athletic career. Babe was an animated individual who seemed to excel in every sport she pursued. Her athletic career began with sandlot baseball in the neighborhoods of Beaumont, Texas. She hit so many homeruns the kids began calling her “Babe” after the baseball legend Babe Ruth. In high school she played in every sport offered: volleyball, tennis, golf, baseball, basketball, and swimming. After high school she was recruited by a Dallas company to play basketball on its team. She was named AAU All-American player in 1930, 1931, and 1932. She achieved legendary status at the 1932 Olympics, winning two gold medals and one silver. One sportswriter called her “without any question, the athletic phenomenon of all time, man or woman.” But her career did not stop there. Babe went on to make headlines and break records in the world of golf as well. She won the finals of the Texas women’s amateur championship of 1935, and was eventually declared ineligible for amateur play by the USGA. She then went on to play the Western Open as a professional, signing a contract with Wilson sporting goods company. She won the Texas Women’s Open in 1945, and was named AP Female Athlete of the Year (an award that she won six times). Babe Didrikson is regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all times.
12. Sheryl Swoopes (b. 1971) Swoopes’ career has been anything but typical and her rise to fame has been anything but easy. Originally from Brownfield, Texas, she grew up in an underprivileged home raised by her single mother in a three-room (she stresses three room, not three bedroom) house. From a very young age she knew that she wanted to play basketball. She played with her brothers while growing up and once she started high school, began to take basketball very seriously. She knew that basketball could be her ticket to a good education and without it college might not have been an option. Swoopes had no problem receiving a basketball scholarship, ending up at Texas Tech University where she ultimately took the team to their first NCAA title. After graduation from Tech, Sheryl made the women’s Olympic team for the 1996 games. She went on to win a gold medal in the 1996 games, and another in the 2000 games. In 1997, Swoopes was one of the first women to be signed for the WNBA. A short six weeks after giving birth to her son, Jordan, Cheryl Swoopes made her WNBA debut with the Houston Comets. As a single mother Swoopes was determined to demonstrate that it was possible to balance a career with raising a family. Although she took considerable time off during the 1997 season she managed to play in 9 games.
13. Carrie Marcus (1883-1953) Carrie Marcus began her career in fashion as a blouse buyer and saleswoman at A. Harris and Company and by the age of 21 had become one of the highest paid working women in Dallas. In 1905 she married Abraham Lincoln (Al) Neiman, and together with her brother Herbert opened a sales promotion business in Atlanta, Georgia, which they sold two years later for $25,000. Cash in hand, they returned to Dallas in 1907 and opened Neiman Marcus with the intent of making it “a new fashion center for southern women” and a “store of quality and superior values.” The store turned a profit the first year and they never looked back. Carrie encouraged weekly fashion shows, fall fashion expositions, and beginning in 1938, instituted the annual Neiman Marcus Awards given to designers for outstanding service in the field of fashion. She was the arbiter of taste and style for the store and rose to the position of chairman of the board in 1950, three years before her death.
14. Bette Graham (1924-1980) Bette Graham developed a multimillion dollar company by simply trying to solve a problem. Working in Dallas as a secretary, Bette became frustrated with the messy nature of correcting typing mistakes. In an effort to make the task more efficient, she had the idea of painting over her mistakes. Tempera water based paint and a paintbrush was all it took to create Mistake Out. Her product caught on quickly in the office and soon other secretaries were asking for it by name. She was soon supplying Mistake Out to all the secretaries in the building. Recognizing this could be a viable business endeavor, in 1956 she turned her kitchen into a laboratory and her garage into a manufacturing plant and began her own business. The growth was slow and the work taxing but it eventually paid off when General Electric placed an order for 432 bottles of what she was now calling Liquid Paper. By 1968 she was selling 40,000 bottles a week and the growth continued from there. Ultimately, Liquid Paper was sold in 1980 for $47.5 million.
15. Mary Kay Ash (1915-2001) After years in direct sales, Mary Kay found herself disillusioned with her corporate experience but anxious to further her sales career. She went to work on a book detailing her experiences in the business world and found she had created a blueprint for a new business. Now, all she needed was a product. An acquaintance of hers had developed a line of lotions and creams that she thought would be perfect. With a life savings totaling $5,000 and a great idea, Mary Kay purchased the formula and Mary Kay Cosmetics was born. What resulted was a lucrative cosmetic business that now has over 500,000 independent beauty consultants in 29 markets worldwide, and has been featured three times as one of the 100 best companies to work for in America.
16. Amanda ‘Ma’ Ferguson (1875-1961) “Me for Ma, and I ain’t got a dern thing against Pa!” was the campaign slogan that carried Amanda ‘Ma’ Ferguson into the governor’s office in 1924. Ferguson was the first woman to become governor of Texas and ultimately served two terms. It has been said that it was her husband and former governor, Jim Ferguson, who announced his wife’s candidacy and ran her for governor. After being impeached during his second term in office, he was determined to find a way to get back in the game. Ma Ferguson was simply a front for her husband and stories still circulate today that once Ma Ferguson was elected, Jim moved his desk into the governor’s office, greeted politicians, and sat in on meetings of the state’s boards and commissions. Despite this, she proved to have a lasting career in Texas politics, campaigning in 11 statewide elections between 1924 and 1940, and demonstrating a genuine concern for important social and economic issues that confronted the state. Although controversy still surrounds her time spent in office, Ferguson did open the door for women to hold political office in Texas.
17. Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) By the time she married former governor William P. Hobby at age 26, Oveta Hobby had studied and taught elocution at Mary Hardin Baylor College in Belton, had been a cub reporter at the Austin Statesman, served as legislative parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives, been a clerk of the State Banking Commission and codified the banking laws of the state of Texas, worked on the National Democratic National Convention in Houston in 1928, accepted a post as assistant to the city attorney in Houston and been persuaded to run for the state legislature. After marrying Hobby, who then worked for and later bought the Houston Post, she set out to learn the newspaper business, ultimately rising to the position of executive vice president. She was appointed head of Bureau of Public Relations of the war department (women’s interest section) in Washington. During this post she helped establish the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps of which she became the director. Upon retiring from that post she was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal, the third highest decoration that the Army gives. Seeing that she was then out of a job, Dwight Eisenhower promptly named her first secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953. In 1955, she returned to the Houston Post as president and editor and in 1956 she became chairman of the board of directors of the newly organized Bank of Texas and the first woman in its 113-year history to be a member of Mutual of New York’s board of trustees. Over the next 30 years she served on numerous boards of directors, various commissions and foundations, and received countless honors, but the one said to be closest to her heart was having the library at Central Texas College in her hometown of Killeen named in her honor.
18. Lady Bird Johnson (b. 1912) Claudia Alta Taylor was declared pretty as a “lady bird” the day she was born and the name stuck. Raised in an affluent family in Karnack, Texas, Lady Bird went on to attend the University of Texas in Austin where she met LBJ and married him a short seven weeks after they were introduced. Her life with Lyndon can be characterized as anything but mundane. The Johnson’s kept a frenetic pace in the political limelight as LBJ worked hard to achieve political prominence starting with his election to the House of Representatives in 1938 and ending three decades later with his Presidency. It is widely acknowledged that he could not have done it without Lady Bird. She has been described as his closest advisor, his confidant, and his strength. During the five years the Johnson’s were in the White House, it is said that Lady Bird did much to expand the role of first lady. One of her biggest campaigns was the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. In 1982 she established the National Wildflower Research Center, later renamed Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which continues to expand and now has several affiliate gardens around the country.
19. Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) “We, the people… ‘It is a very eloquent beginning. But when the document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that ‘We, the people. ‘ I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision, I have finally been included in ‘We, the people’ … My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total.” Barbara Jordan, July 25, 1974
Barbara Jordan’s distinct oratory style made people sit up and listen and her message made people think. She grew up in Houston’s poor Fifth Ward and graduated magna cum laude from TSU with a degree in political science. She then began working on an amazing list of firsts. She attended Boston University Law School and then became the first African American to be elected to the Texas Senate (1966-72) since the days of Reconstruction. In 1972, she was named President Pro Tempore of the Senate, making her the first black woman in American history to preside over a state legislative body. She then became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress from a former Confederate state (1972-78), and subsequently the first to give the keynote address at a national party convention (the Democratic National Conventions of 1976 and 1992). She did not take on typical women’s legislative issues, instead directing her pragmatic legislative talents at the problems of minimum-wage and voter registration. In 1979, at the end of her three terms in Congress, she accepted the LBJ Public Service Professorship at UT-Austin where she was known as a dedicated educator and a demanding mentor. Throughout her career, Barbara Jordan did not want to be defined as a woman politician or a black politician, but simply a politician, and that she was. On January 20, 1996, Barbara Jordan was laid to rest at the Texas State Cemetery, an honor reserved for Texas heroes, making her the first African American woman to be buried there
20. Ann Richards (b. 1933) “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels,” quipped Ann Richards at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. It was this fiery speech that put her on the national political scene. Ann’s political career began more as a hobby. Both she and her husband were keenly interested in politics and it was something they could do together. “We did [it] like other couples who join dance clubs or bowling teams,” Richards explains. Her political career started in Austin when she was elected to a seat on the Travis County Commissioner Court. Six years later she was elected State Treasurer, making her the first woman in 50 years elected to a statewide office in Texas. And in 1990 she was elected governor of Texas, making her the second female governor of the state. She was big on education, minority rights, and did much to increase the efficiency of the government, saving taxpayers an estimated $6 million. As the 45th governor she is remembered for her quick wit and feisty personality.
21. Emma Tenayuca (1916-1999) Pecan shelling was an enormous industry in San Antonio during the Depression years, and at this time workers in the industry were paid very little (approximately six cents per pound of pecans). In addition, working conditions in the industry were terrible. The dust in the air from the pecans created a high rate of tuberculosis, and combined with a lack of restrooms and proper cleaning facilities made for a deplorable working environment. In 1938, 12,000 workers decided to go on strike and it was Emma Tenayuca that was asked to be the strike representative. Emma was an ardent labor activist who worked tirelessly for workers’ rights. She grew up in San Antonio, and at age 16 she joined the labor movement. She was greatly influenced by the readings of both Marx and Tolstoy, ultimately leading to her membership in the Communist party. She remained in San Antonio until she was blacklisted, forcing her to move to San Francisco where she obtained her teaching certification in 1952. She eventually returned to San Antonio in the 1960s, teaching in the Harlandale school district and receiving her master’s in education from Our Lady of the Lake University.
22. Edna Gladney (1886-1961) Edna Gladney spent her life in the Dallas/Fort Worth area caring for homeless and underprivileged children. She made a career out of placing children with adopted families, and providing important services to unwed mothers. As part of her effort she lobbied the state legislature to drop the word illegitimate from a child’s birth certificate, and urged the passage of a bill that would give adopted children the same inheritance rights as other children. Gladney worked for Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society, and in 1950, after acquiring the West Texas Maternity Hospital, the society renamed it the Edna Gladney Home. In her accomplished career Edna found homes for over 10,000 children. The Edna Gladney home continues to improve the lives of children, recently celebrating its 115th year.
23. Caro Brown (1908-2001) It was 1954 when, in the midst of a scuffle, Texas Ranger Alfred Y. “Cap” Allee stuck a pistol in the ribs of notorious south Texas political boss George Parr fully intending to ventilate his torso. At this point Caro Brown stepped between the two and convinced “Cap” not to kill him. Just another day at the office for the first Texan to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism— awarded for her series of articles that ultimately brought down the corrupt political dynasty of Mr. Parr. The Pulitzer committee noted that Brown had “written under unusual pressure both of edition time and difficult, even dangerous circumstances.” Novelist J. Frank Dobie said of her: “She has a seeing eye and a portraying hand and she believes in something.” She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986.
24. Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) “I shall try to tell the truth, but the result will be fiction.” -Katherine Anne Porter
Born in Indian Creek, Texas, Katherine Anne Porter’s Southern upbringing informed and influenced much of her writing. Porter was a talented novelist who won the Gold Medal for Fiction, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1965). She then went on to enjoy critical acclaim for her book Ship of Fools, which was made into an Oscar winning film in 1966. The story, set on a German passenger ship traveling from Germany to Mexico, explores themes of jealousy, hate, love, cruelty, and duplicity. Porter enjoyed a long and prolific career. She lived the last years of her life in Maryland, passing away in 1980.
25. Liz Carpenter (b. 1920) Often referred to in Washington as the “wittiest woman in the Great Society,” Liz Carpenter is best known as the press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson from 1963 until the Johnsons left office. Liz grew up in the small community of Salado, Texas, and went on to receive a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. Upon graduation Liz moved to Washington, D.C., where she began a long career as a political reporter. She was the first woman to serve as executive assistant to a vice president of the United States, was an ardent supporter of Lady Bird’s American beautification project as well as the education programs instituted during the LBJ administration. After leaving the White House, Carpenter worked diligently for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, served as a consultant to the LBJ Library, and served as assistant secretary for the Department of Education. She is regarded as a strong woman with a charismatic personality who is fondly remembered in Washington to this day.
26. Belle Starr, (1848-1889) Belle Starr better known as the “Bandit Queen of Dallas,” was a woman of legendary status, known for her expert equestrian skills, scandalous love affairs, and brazen acts of outlaw. She was by no means a typical lady of the 19th century. She supported herself by singing in dance halls, dealing poker, and running a livery stable trafficking in stolen horses. Involved in numerous high profile robberies, she didn’t duck out of town or maintain a low profile. In the robbery of wealthy Oklahoma Creek Indian Watt Grayson, Belle and Jim Reed teamed up to steal $30,000. After the robbery Belle brazenly established herself at the Planter’s Hotel in Dallas, and swaggered around town in a flowing, black velvet skirt with a cartridge belt equipped with two revolvers attached to her hip. She became such a legend that many accounts of Belle have been accused of being highly sensationalistic and ultimately inaccurate. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that this daring and outspoken woman did exist and seemed to make headlines wherever she went.
27. Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) “Some day they’ll go down together; They’ll bury them side by side; To few it’ll be grief—To the law a relief—But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.” – Bonnie Parker
Bonnie Parker sent such poems and photos to the newspapers during her two-year crime spree with Clyde Barrow. Born in Rowena, Texas, and raised in west Dallas, Bonnie did not fit the typical profile of a hardened criminal. She stood barely 5 feet tall and was said to excel in school. Bonnie met Barrow in 1930 and the two began a romance that lasted until 1934. The two traveled throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Mexico holding up small grocery stores, banks and filling stations. It was not until 1934 when former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer arrived on the scene that the infamous duo was caught and gunned down near their hideout in Black Lake, Louisiana.
28. Sarah T. Hughes (b. 1896-1985) At 2:38 p.m. on November 22, 1963, Judge Sarah T. Hughes administered the oath of office to Lyndon Baines Johnson just 98 minutes after John Kennedy, the president who had appointed her to the federal bench months earlier, was pronounced dead. In 1922, when she began practicing law, women were not allowed to sit on juries or make legal contracts. In 1930 she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives for the first of three terms. It was during her third term in 1935 that she accepted an appointment by Governor James Allred as judge of the Fourteenth District Court in Dallas thus becoming the first woman to serve as a regular district judge in Texas.
29. Katherine Stinson Otero (1891-1977) As a young girl Katherine was intent on traveling through Europe. She just had to come up with a means to fund her trip. Her job search turned up only menial positions that paid next to nothing until she came across a job offer for pilots to perform air shows and make up to $1,000 a day. It wasn’t long before she was pursuing a career in aviation. Initially it was difficult convincing anyone that she was capable of becoming a pilot. Standing 5 feet tall and weighing 101 pounds, no one thought she would be strong enough to manage an airplane. She quickly proved everyone wrong and went on to defy convention and break numerous records. Katherine Stinson was the fourth female pilot and the first to perform the dangerous loop-the-loop air stunt. She was also the first pilot to fly at night and she set a length record when she flew 610 miles from San Diego to San Francisco. She then beat her own record flying from Chicago to New York to deliver mail, serving as the first female commissioned airmail pilot.
30. Ima Hogg (1882-1975) Ima Hogg, daughter of Governor James Stephen Hogg, was born in Mineola, Texas. Named after a heroine of a civil war poem written by her uncle Thomas Elisha Hogg, Ima was educated in Texas and New York, where she studied music. Throughout her life she was dedicated to supporting the arts, and she conducted various philanthropic activities throughout Texas. She played an important role in the Houston Symphony Society, was the first woman president of the Philosophical Society of Texas, received an award for her role in historic preservation around the state in 1967, and served on the committee to plan the famous Kennedy Center. She received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Southwestern University in 1971 and was the first woman to receive UT’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.