Driscoll, Clara (1881–1945)

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Driscoll, Clara (1881–1945)

Texas philanthropist and politician who is best known for her part in preserving the Alamo Mission in San Antonio. Name variations: Mrs. Henry Sevier. Born in St. Mary's Texas, on April 2, 1881; died in Corpus Christi, Texas, on July 17, 1945; younger of two children and only daughter of Robert (a millionaire rancher and businessman) and Julia (Fox) Driscoll; attended private schools in Texas and New York City and the Chateau Dieudonne, a French convent near Paris; married Henry Hulme ("Hal") Sevier (a journalist), in July 1906 (divorced 1937); no children.

Clara Driscoll, whose name figures prominently in the history of Texas, is best remembered for her role in preserving the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, scene of the famous battle of the Texas Revolution of 1836. The attractive, redheaded daughter of millionaire rancher Robert Driscoll, Clara spent much of her young life in private schools far removed from Texas ranch life. Upon her return from France in 1899, she was drawn into the Alamo project by Adina De Zavala , a leader of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who for years had been actively seeking preservation of the Texas missions. The Alamo, then privately owned, was virtually lost in the midst of a run-down commercial district in San Antonio. By 1903, Driscoll had embraced the Alamo cause as her own and that year donated the bulk of the $75,000 necessary to purchase the mission site for the State. In 1905, the Texas legislature appropriated the funds to repay her and conveyed the entire Alamo site to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The organization then split ranks over the question of restoring or demolishing the remains of the mission. While De Zavala's supporters (the "De Zavalans") wanted to restore the adjacent buildings, the Driscoll camp (the "Driscollites") favored their demolition in order to clear the area for a memorial park. The Driscoll plan won court approval in 1910, after which work began to create the Alamo Plaza and Alamo Park. In 1925, Driscoll became president of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and, in 1931, gave $65,000 to purchase the last remaining portion of the block of buildings in which the Alamo was located.

During the drawn out Alamo project, Driscoll wrote hundreds of pages on Texas history, which she turned into two moderately successful books and a play. Her novel, The Girl of La Gloria, was published in 1905 and was followed by a collection of short stories about Texas, In the Shadow of the Alamo, in 1906. That same year, her play Mexicana was turned into a musical production (written in collaboration with Robert W. Smith and composer Raymond Hubbel), and produced in New York by the Schubert brothers. (Evidently, expenditures for the lavish production rivaled the Alamo project.) Reviews were mixed, but the show ran for 82 performances.

In 1906, Driscoll married Henry Hulme ("Hal") Sevier, a former member of the Texas legislature, who was at the time a financial editor of the New York Sun. After a three-month honeymoon in Europe, the couple settled in New York, building an opulent home at Oyster Bay, Long Island. Driscoll continued to write, although it was the couple's social life that occupied most of her time. When her father died and her brother assumed control of the Driscoll family interests, the couple returned to Austin, Texas, where Sevier established a newspaper, the Austin American, in 1914. Selecting a spectacular site overlooking a lagoon on the Colorado River, they built a second home, a lavish Italian-style villa, called Laguna Gloria, which was later donated to the Fine Arts Association for use as an art gallery. Driscoll was active in various clubs, including the Pan-American Round Table, the Austin Open Forum, and the Garden Club. In 1922, she was elected the first Democratic National Committeewoman from Texas, which led to a long, personal and financial association with state and national politics. In 1929, when her brother Robert died without heirs, Driscoll assumed ownership and management of the numerous Driscoll properties composed of farmlands, ranches, and oil interests, as well as the Corpus Christi Bank and Trust Company, of which she became president. Under her skilled direction, the family businesses flourished, as did the economy of the area.

In 1932, her husband Sevier was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as ambassador to Chile, which may have had as much to do with Driscoll's support of Roosevelt's campaign as it did with Sevier's experience in Latin America. The couple resided in Chile for three years, amid growing rumors that Sevier was inept and Driscoll was in fact doing his job for him. The marriage disintegrated, and when Sevier resigned in 1935 the couple returned to Corpus Christi, taking up residence in separate hotels. Driscoll initiated the divorce, which was granted in 1937, after which she resumed her maiden name.

Clara Driscoll remained a political and financial force in Texas until her death. She built the luxurious Driscoll Hotel in Corpus Christi, where she lived for the rest of her life. (Capricious by nature, she supposedly had the hotel constructed because she was dissatisfied with the service she had received elsewhere.) In 1939, she converted a loan of $92,000 she had made to the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs to a gift for their Austin clubhouse. For her generosity, and as recognition of her work as "Savior of the Alamo," the governor proclaimed October 4, 1939, as Clara Driscoll Day.

Also in 1939, Driscoll helped launch and finance the nomination of her long-time friend John Nance Garner for president, but shifted her support to Franklin Roosevelt when he was renominated. In 1944, she headed the rump convention that split with the Texas Democratic organization in order to remain loyal to Roosevelt, who was running for a fourth term. After a bitter contest, her delegation won accreditation to the national convention that year, and she was chosen vice-chair of the national committee. During World War II, Driscoll headed the women's war-bond and stamp-sales drive in Texas.

Clara Driscoll died in Corpus Christi on July 17, 1945, of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her body lay in state in the Alamo chapel before burial in the family mausoleum at the Masonic Cemetery in San Antonio. She left a large portion of her estate for the establishment of a children's hospital in Corpus Christi, which opened in 1953. Along with the Alamo, the hospital remains a living legacy to Driscoll's spirit and generosity.

sources:

Crawford, Ann Fears, and Crystal Sasse Ragsdale. Women in Texas. Austin, TX: State House Press, 1992.

James, Edward T. Notable American Women. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Driscoll, Clara (1881–1945)

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