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Interview with: Ima Hogg
Interviewed by: Margaret Henson
Date: October 2, 1974
MH: Talking about why you formed the Symphony and how you felt like this was a need.
IH: I’d been studying in Germany. I came back and I felt like I had had a good deal of advantage and I didn’t think I should throw it away. So I said, we ought to have a symphony in Houston. Well, they had these little orchestras in the silent movies and they were the nucleus of a good orchestra and a good conductor from Boston came down and he said I’d like to settle in Houston and organize an orchestra. I said, “Alright. I’ll try to help you.”
Well, he couldn’t get anywhere. He came and said to me, “Nobody wants an orchestra, none of the musicians.”
Well, about a year later, one of the men, a very, very gifted man, he wanted to be a conductor. He got this idea, this man, and he tried to organize an orchestra and got a good many men together, not more than 50, I think. And he couldn’t get any support, nobody from Houston in it. And finally he came to me, he didn’t want to (chuckle), rather go to somebody else, but everybody sent them to me. And he organized the orchestra, and I said, “Well, if you’ll give us a trial concert, we’ll see what you can do.” So we gave free tickets to the first performance and a really great success, we did very, very well.
MH: Thank you very much, very nice, thank you. (coffee being served)
IH: So then we began to work. And it was an uphill job, nobody thought we could do it. Is this Sanka?
(male voice): No, it’s coffee, Miss Ima.
IH: I can’t drink coffee.
(male voice): All right then, we’ll give you a Sanka.
(female voice in background): Take your nap later.
IH: Well, we had a good success with that and they paid them very little. Paid them by the hour.
(female voice): No, thank you.
IH: And played about 3 or 4 concerts a year. We sold, tried to get $25 to sit in a box. And the rest of it was a donation. The tickets were about dollar or a dollar and a half. And that went very well. And then the war started and it broke up the orchestra.
MH: Some of the musicians had to serve in the army?
IH: It broke up the orchestra. And then we kept the organization, just the same. And the leaders talked about the orchestra and they brought one or two here, good orchestras from up in the north.
IH: Lucius, can’t you give me….
(male voice): It’s getting ready, Miss Ima, getting your Sanka ready. Wait till you get your coffee.
IH: Took us 10 years to start again, 1929. We tried to find a good conductor. All the musicians had disbanded, disbursed, so there was nothing to start with.
MH: They weren’t playing in theaters any more?
IH: No, they were a number here, but not enough to start an orchestra. And we wanted a good conductor, so I went to New York to find a conductor. And while I was there, funny thing, Mrs. Graham was a singing teacher, wanted to have opera, and she went to Italy and found a man in Italy to come here and organize an orchestra for the opera. We couldn’t get anywhere, and finally, we said, our board said, “Well, let’s try him.” His name was Nespoli.
MH: Did this cause any trouble with the opera people?
IH: Mrs. Graham couldn’t handle it. She couldn’t get enough money to start it. And we had a little bit of money. And we had by that time, we began to know that we could do something. So Nespoli started. And Nespoli didn’t know anything at all. There was a very good German here in town who played the piano. And he taught Nespoli every score.
MH: Did he understand opera but not symphony music?
IH: Yes. So Nespoli was conductor for two years. Played some dreadful things.
MH: Oh, really!
IH: We found out we couldn’t have him. So a young man in town said well, he knew a very fine conductor in ….. and maybe he could come. He was a really very fine musician and he came, and he conducted here for several years. And he suddenly decided he wanted a bigger salary. And the president didn’t ask us and he said no we can’t do it . You can just resign. And he resigned. Walter Walne and a good many prominent men in town, I called them out to my house and I said we have to have a president for the symphony and I’ve elected you to be the president. I’d given each one a call to their name, their name. Walter Walne, “Well I couldn’t do that.”
MH: And you said, “ Oh yes, you can.”
IH: (aside, thank you…. Serving cookies?)
MH: Oh those are good.
IH: Every man there, about 5 of them has his own name. So Walter ......beat him.
MH: Drafted him. So what did he do?
IH:….find a good conductor. He selected a conductor…….There’s a lot more to it. But then began Mr. Bond says I’m not going to have a one-horse orchestra. I’m going to have a big budget, $60,000. (chuckle)
MH: At that time, that was a lot of money. For the town….
IH: For that many concerts. ….and began to have good concerts.
MH: Well the Houston Symphony certainly has become well known.
IH: And after that…that’s the first thing I did. Next thing, I did, I was very interested in Mental Health
MH: The Foundation.
IH: And I thought we’d organize a mental health clinic. And I appealed to an organization, New York not ready…. Health organizations in town are not developed enough, can’t do it. So…..the same man came back to see Houston, interviewed all different ….. said now you’re ready. So, I went to New York to a training school, a very fine man there, we said to him, come. We struggled and struggled and struggled with that for years. Now we have a very great organization. It’s wonderful
MH: Was it difficult to get people to give money to this sort of a foundation?
IH: They did at first. I first established it by asking people to give us money for it. Now it’s in the fund.
MH: Foundation, endowment.
IH: It is booming, booming and booming
MH: There’s a great need for this kind of help.
IH: There’s a lot of them here in town, a great many. And each one doing different kind of work. It’s splendid. We have Harris County, it does a different kind of work. And the child guidance center, it’s the mother’s doing for children. Then there’s another one here, it’s called the....(pause), it does wonderful things. There are ever so many now in Houston.
MH: Which one of these many interests that you’ve had gives you the most pleasure?
IH: I think the one that I began, that’s the child guidance center. It’s a very big thing now. We had a wonderful time. We had a long time getting started though, an awful time. If I hadn’t believed what a guidance center could do, I would have given up. We didn’t get any good director at all, we never did. We did get some good directors. But they would, something happened to each one.
MH: That’s unfortunate.
IH: The first man was a wonderful man. But he had a problem of his own and he had resigned. And then the next one we got was marvelous and he resigned because he had a personal problem.
MH: You had bad luck
IH: That man worked his heart out. He did great and wonderful things. And we did one thing that was very, very essential. We had a class and it was sponsored by the University of Texas and the University of Houston, that teachers came and gave lectures. And we brought lecturers in. And any school teacher could go to those classes to get credit for it. That it worked beautifully. And the next thing I tried to do was get a visiting teacher program in the public schools. And that worked wonderfully until I got off the board.
MH: When were you on the board, what years?
IH: I forget what years.
IH: I never intended on being on the school board. But I tried to get somebody on the school board. And they held it on me. And I said, “I can’t run for office.” And they said, “Well, you don’t try anything. We’ll just help elect you.” And they elected me.
MH: Was it a rewarding experience serving on the school board?
IH: No it was disheartening.
MH: Too many problems?
IH: Very disheartening. The School Board was very much, at that time the schools were split in Houston. There was a financial man and the superintendent of education, and they split.
MH: They didn’t get along?
IH: The financial man wanted to run the schools. Wanted to appoint everybody, nobody could do anything without him. That was very bad. That was the next thing. Then, meantime I had been collecting American Furniture. And I collected and collected and collected . And I had so much I didn’t know what to do with it.
MH: So you decided to make a museum out of it.
IH: I decided to give it to a museum. They said they would take it if I endowed it. I wasn’t smart. I said alright if you will match me but they didn’t. And I had an awful time for a while. Everything has problems. It is just booming now, really booming. Everything over there is going so well. It is really wonderful.
MH: You have a good director.
IH: I had to sell my father’s home down at Varner. I couldn’t restore it accurately, because already been things done to it. My oldest brother wanted to enlarge it and do different things to it, and it isn’t really… interior is original, exterior is not like it was. And that is a very interesting thing. It tells the story of Texas. You go in the first hall and that is the colony, and to the right is the Confederate and the left room downstairs is our forefathers, and you go upstairs in the middle hall, memorabilia of my father. And then on the right side there was an attempt, oh way, way back about 1818, the followers of Napoleon wanted to set up an empire and they came here.
MH: The Lallemond brothers?
IH: Yes, they thought they would get him out of prison. They would bring him here and set up another empire. That was the next thing. That was that room. Then the left room is a family room. Many people had lived there. We had things from everybody that had lived there. Different things. In the dining room….
MH: Is separate?
IH: …is the Mexican war and all the things from that. And then the kitchen is just done over, it’s a pretty kitchen. And then the smoke house is still there. And the pantry has a lot of china, very interesting old-fashioned china.
MH: The last time I was down there they were doing something to the exterior walls because the rooms were sweating or something, I believe. They were re-doing an exterior wall.
IH: I want another. I love these donuts.
MH: Thank you.
IH: What was going on there when you were there?
MH: They were doing some sort of remodeling on the exterior walls.
IH: Oh, yeah
MH: They had the repair…..
IH: The painting.
MH: The lady was explaining they were sort of proud. They had had to move the furniture and some of the things.
IH: But now the next thing I’ve done, I moved my grandfather’s house on the plantation to a park.
MH: Up in east Texas.
IH: East Texas. And restored it.
MH: That’ll be interesting
IH: Furnished it
MH: Grandfather Hogg?
IH: My mother’s father.
IH: A very beautiful house. And then I had Winedale.
MH: Oh, yes.
IH: Which I took and restored the Inn.
MH: It’s beautiful. I was in Austin last week and some of the…..
IH: All Texas furnishings.
MH: Some of the people from Winedale were in Austin last week, I met them.
IH: The Inn, and the kitchen, the smokehouse. The old oak…Hazel Ledbetter gave it to us. That’s where we receive people. Then we have a very large building where students come to study various things. They can stay there for very little.
MH: Oh, really.
IH: Then we have the McGregor house, it is set way back. One of the most important men at that time in Texas. And that’s not finished yet, the exterior is, but the interior isn’t. We have plenty of furniture for it.
MH: Do you re-arrange the furniture when you go to these places sometimes?
IH: What’s that?
MH: Do you sometimes go and re-arrange the furniture at these places
IH: (laughter) No, I don’t. I gathered it here and there. We’ve gotten some very valuable furniture. I have one bed that was given to us. I wanted to buy it and the lady said, “No, we’ve had many people who want to buy this. We would never allow it to be sold because we wanted to keep for a museum.” I said, “This will be a museum.” “Alright you can have it.”
MH: How nice.
IH: So, I said, “You were offered $3000 for it. So as a compliment to you I will give you $3000.” Then I have another bed, a Doris (?check spelling of name) bed, but made for the family by Steinharper. And he made it for his wife, but it would never go out of the family. And a young woman down in….ummmm , right near here, in a little village, had it in a tiny little cottage, and really she had to cut off the bottom of the legs because it couldn’t go into the room. How many times I see it, it was a fabulous thing. And I thought a long time, and finally I said, “I will lease this, I will lease it from you for 10 years. At the end of 10 years, I give you more money for your heir, for any heir you have.” So it will really be ours, in name, not in name, only name.
Well, now we have a project writing a book on Texas furniture, cabinetmaking. Can’t seem to get finished with it. I did my part and the man who is doing the rest of it, background history of Texas, he can’t seem to get going. I can’t do a thing about it.
MH: Who is that? Who is the man?
IH: It’s the man who is the director of Winedale.
MH: Uh huh. That will be nice if it ever gets finished.
IH: …..man, and he will do it beautifully. But he just can’t get it started. I don’t know about the last name. And then I want to publish my father’s letters to the children.
MY: Oh. Um hum. That will be nice
Ih: Very interesting. Very, very interesting. But I can’t get around to that.
MH: Oh, you must get around to that. Historians want to have that.
IH: I’ve had….Everything I ever did I had trouble in the beginning to do it. I never did anything easily. Never. It’s odd. I never could do anything easily. I had to wait and work and try. Until I finally did it.
MH: Didn’t you play the piano at a very early age though? (repeated)
IH: I studied in Europe. I played all my life. I played when I was three years old.
MH: That’s what I read. Fantastic!
IH: And I studied in Europe with very great teachers and all encouraged me to be a professional concert pianist. I never wanted to do that. I said, “No, I’m studying for my own pleasure. I don’t want to do it.” And I played until I was very ill. And I was in bed so long, when I got up I was so weak I couldn’t play. And gradually I just had to give it up.
MH: Oh, really? You haven’t played in years though.
IH: I don’t have time now
MH: You did give lessons.
IH: My mind wanders, I have too many things on my mind.
MH: You did give lessons at one time
IH: Oh, I gave scholarships. I gave some scholarships to several children. I enjoyed that. Great pleasure. One of them is professional now, a very great pianist. Others played very well. One became a teacher. One married. She still plays. And one of them he studied it very long and became a very great artist, concert artist.
MH: What about the clock that you gave to the governor’s mansion? The old French clock?
IH: That wasn’t mine. I didn’t give that. No, Mrs. Sewell gave that.
IH: I gave other furniture.
MH: Uh, huh. I, uh….They discovered it was Napoleon’s clock or something afterwards. Some story about that.
IH: Been restored now. Yes, it’s alright. And I gave a parlor set to the mansion. And I gave, oh, I don’t know how many things to the mansion.
MH: What was it like living in the governor’s mansion in the 1880’s, 1890’s?
MH: Oh, really!
IH: Horrible. The ceilings were 17 feet high, no heat, little iron grates to put coal in.
IH: Nobody…..We had colds all the time. Dreadful. And the bathtub was at the end of house in an L, put there by Sam Houston, about 8 feet long. And you had to pump the water into it. Very primitive.
IH: Very, very primitive. We enjoyed living there though. Of course Father was very social. And he had a lot of receptions. And he had a lot of guests. I don’t know how they stood it, I really don’t know how they stood it.
MH: Good sports, I guess. What was it like living at Varner plantation? Did you ever live down there very much?
IH: Oh, yes. I did. It was very, very lovely. We enjoyed it so much. We had a lot of pets down there. And we had horses. We used to go hunting at night.
MH: What did you hunt?
IH: Coon hunting, coon hunting at night.
MH: can’t imagine Miss Ima Hogg out coon hunting at night!
IH: Oh, yes! I had a wonderful horse. He was an Arabian horse, and he was the most intelligent animal. I never saw anybody so clever. And the little creek we had to go through when we were riding after the coons, every time he would get to the creek he would turn down and look. It wasn’t deep, and he would turn over and look back at me and turn up his nose. And then he would get up and let me get in on….get on the back. The fishing was wonderful too. Out at Lake (Meir?), Maynor Lake, they called it. Great lake for fishing. We would go up there in little flat bottom boats and catch fish and fry the fish right there on the bank.
MH: What kind of fish were they, do you remember?
IH: I think they were mostly perch.
MH: Those are good eating, fried.
MH: Fresh caught and fried.
IH: They are very good. I don’t think they had any trout. I don’t believe….I don’t remember any. Little perch, about that long. Very, very good. I don’t think they were muddy. Although the lake was full of pads, lily pads. I don’t know how deep it was for the flat bottom boats. We had a grand time down there. We were off of school most of the time, come back there.
MH: Large groups of young people, I guess?
MH: A nice social, restful, country kind of things, hunting and fishing, that’s very nice.
IH: And we had visitors. We didn’t have very many rooms there either. The bathroom was on the end of the porch. And a tank right by the back bathroom and you had to pump the water into the bathroom. And if you had hot water we had to bring it upstairs from the kitchen.
MH: That was the early 1900’s, wasn’t it, about then that you were down there?
IH: Not that………now.
MH: Did you ever think of writing a biography of your father?
IH: No, I have not. I have thought of publishing his letters. Because he wrote the most beautiful letters to the children. He was a very deeply religious man. And he was always, he had a great way of teaching us lessons, how to behave and what to do. Mother was quite ill, she was an invalid really. And she was stalwart. I don’t know how she did what she did. How she kept house and had guests and everything. And nobody knew what was the matter with her, thought she had stomach trouble. And they didn’t know until after father retired from office. She went up to San Antonio to see Dr. Heard. And Dr. Heard said, “Well, you have to go to Colorado , you have lung trouble.” She didn’t know it, she thought she had stomach trouble. We went to every resort. Father sent us to Arkansas, and every resort in Texas. I went with her. And I slept with her. It’s a wonder I didn’t contract it, isn’t it.
MH: Yes, it is.
IH: It is.
MH: It really is.
IH: You’d think I would.
MH: You must have a hearty constitution. You must be very strong.
IH: Yes. None of us had it. None of us. ……back with my mother everywhere. When she went off to these resorts. I slept with her.
MH: What were resorts like in those days?
MH: Were the resorts pretty primitive too? The resorts where your mother went for the health thing?
IH: Oh, terribly dreadful. Didn’t have a decent hotel in Texas
MH: I can imagine.
IH: Awful. Terrible. And Sour Lake, we went there. At this dreadful old farm.
MH: Oh, yeah.
IH: Had a great big old house there. Everybody went.
IH: And Sour Lake is a very interesting place. They had four wells about 5 feet apart, each well with a different mineral content. A great big lake, Sour Lake. It was hot. Put a piece of steak in it and cook it.
MH: Hmmmm. That hot.
IH: And a there was a doctor there, called him Dr. Mudd. And you know they could draw people who had dropsy, could go there and take those mud baths and get rid of it. Drew all the water out.
MH: Funny, isn’t it.
IH: And they were also made beautiful. And he would put the mud on their faces, stay there long enough, and the mud came off and their faces would be as beautiful. Something in the mud, I don’t know what it was. Really quite wonderful.
MH: Spas around town should found out about what was in the mud.
MH: They’d make a million dollars now, wouldn’t they?
IH: Of course Sour Lake is now no more.
MH: No, no.
IH: But those healthy Indians knew that. They built those wells and they went there and sell it for drinking. They would drink the water, too. Very good water. But four different kinds of wells.
MH: It’s funny
IH: Different content and people drank it. ……..the doctor. It seemed to be very purifying, very good for your system. Lots of people cured of things.
MH: I guess it’s like Hot Springs up in Arkansas.
IH: More so.
MH: Only more so.
IH: Hot Springs…(?)…. I was there, I was there with mother. It was full of crippled people. Awful place.
MH: I noticed that in 1940 you spoke up for Wendell Wilkie on the radio here in Houston, I believe it was.
IH: Did what?
MH: You spoke in favor of Wendell Wilkie in 1940 when he was running against Franklin Roosevelt. I think that’s the only time you ever got in on politics.
MH: Wendell Wilkie, the Republican.
IH: Oh, yes. Yes, indeed I did.
MH: I think that’s the only time you got into politics.
IH: That’s right. I never did. My brother pursuaded me to do that.
MH: Uh, huh. I wondered.
IH: He was very much for Wendell Wilkie.
MH: Which brother was that?
IH: He was very much for Wendell Wilkie.
MH: I thought that was interesting because you had avoided politics for so long.
IH: Oh, yes.
MH: And then here was this newspaper clipping about it. I saw that. Very interesting.
IH: I mentioned politics. Now I don’t do anything about it.
MH: Well, we should have had you for governor too, I guess. You could have gone in there and beaten Ma Ferguson or something and been another woman governor.
MH: Texas is so unique with so many interesting people in its past.
IH: Not told too much.
MH: Oh, I don’t know. Did you know people like Florence Sterling that were active in the women’s movement?
IH: No, I wasn’t.
MH: You didn’t take any part in that.
MH: You were busy with the Symphony about that time, I guess.
IH: No, I wasn’t interested.
MH: Uh, hmm.
IH: She did, she was very interesting. Of course her brother ran for governor and was elected and he lost everything he had. He bought the newspaper here. And he didn’t lose everything he had either, because his son is a very rich man, but he lost a great deal. An awful fine man. He didn’t know anything about government.
MH: That’s unfortunate.
IH: His wife was very smart.
MH: Oh, was she?
IH: Mrs. Sterling was a very remarkable woman, brilliant.
MH: Did you know Minnie Fisher Cunningham, another woman that was active?
IH: Yes, I knew her slightly.
MH: Uh, huh. She was very active I believe in women’s rights.
IH: Yes, I knew her slightly. Just a little bit. I knew Mrs. Pennybacker.
MH: Oh, did you?
IH: She was a big (?) , she was the head of everything. I think she was the president of some national organization. I don’t know what. She was a very wonderful woman. Brilliant.
MH: Let’s see what other questions I had down.
IH: I’m awfully ashamed of my voice.
MH: Don’t be!
IH: Oh, no. I’ve got this laryngitis and it’s very hard to talk.
MH: My mother is 90 and lives out at Clairwood House and she has the same trouble with her voice.
IH: This just came upon me the last two weeks.
MH: Well, I know I called over here and they said that you…..
IH: I don’t know what it is.
MH: Mother just has trouble. She thinks it’s the air conditioner. She’s convinced.
IH: I have some allergy.
MH: Uh, hmmm. I suspect so.
IH: I think it must be an allergy.
MH: This time of the year it certainly could be.
IH: Yes. I don’t know what it is. I never had it before.
MH: Uh, huh. Well I hope you get over it.
IH: I’ve always had a very clear voice.
MH: Oh, uh huh. Well, I didn’t know anything to compare it with. Well, perhaps you will feel better.
IH: Are you at Rice University? Are you?
MH: Yes. Um hmm. We are going to be there for two years until, the old library building downtown, they move out of it into the new library. And then we will move into the old library building.
IH: You’re going down to the old library?
MH: Uh huh. This will be a research center.
MH: And it will have…
IH: In the building actually?
MH: And we will use the old building.
IH: That was a wonderful library
MH: It is. It is. Very fine.
IH: A wonderful library.
MH: And we will have a research center with oral history, the tapes like this. And also we are going to index on computer where all the records are, where all of the city records are and where to go to find anything you want.
IH: Isn’t that wonderful.
MH: I think it will be a real help for scholars.
IH: Are you a librarian somewhere else?
MH: No, no, I’m a historian. I teach history in the community college. And…
IH: You teach history?
MH: Um hmm. Texas History. Texas History.
IH: At Rice?
MH: Um hmm.
IH: Oh, that’s interesting.
MH: So I’m the historian for the project. I look up all the historical things that need to be looked up and talk to people who, like you, who are important in Texas history. I interviewed Mr. William Kirkland a couple of weeks ago.
IH: Oh, yes. (cannot distinguish)
MH: About the Second National…
IH: He knows a lot.
MH: Or, the First National Bank. Yes.
MH: And Ben Shepherd.
IH: Knows a great deal.
MH: Uh huh. He’s very interesting, very interesting.
IH: Yes. Isn’t it fine to have the Shepherd School of Music.
MH: Yes, yes. Out there at Rice.
IH: I met Dr. Jones. He’s a very able, very nice person, too.
MH: Well, is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t talked about?
IH: (laughter) I think I talked plenty.
MH: Well, we’ll turn it off. I thank you very much, Miss Hogg, for this interesting interview, your reminiscences about old times.