Mary Bivins, pioneer and philanthropist, was born on February 12, 1862, in Lebanon, Collin County, Texas, to Miles Green and Lucy Harriett (Williams) Gilbert, Jr. The Gilberts had moved to the area three years earlier from Missouri. Mary was educated at Mary Nash College in Sherman and married Lee Bivins on August 18, 1882. They became the parents of two sons and two daughters, but only the sons survived childhood. Bivins moved the family to the Panhandle in 1890; there he acquired his first ranch, the Mulberry Pasture, south of Claude. By the time the family settled in Amarillo, around the turn of the century, Bivins was one of the largest cattle operators in the world. His wife supervised the building of their new home while he was away on business, and the magnificent three-story structure became an Amarillo landmark. For twenty years after Mrs. Bivins left the building to the city, it served as the public library.
The gift of her home capped a lifetime of largesse. Mrs. Bivins's philanthropies ranged from private gifts, such as furnished houses for needy families, to support for a wide range of public charities, including the preventorium of the Amarillo Tuberculosis Association, the School Children's Relief fund, and the American Red Cross. She donated building sites for the Maverick Club, the West Amarillo Christian Church, and the VFW headquarters; she also initiated the building fund and helped purchase the lot for the Social Center for Girls. Mrs. Bivins donated the chapel at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, and financed the education of a number of young Christian ministers. Until the age of eighty-seven, she was the grande dame of the Amarillo Fat Stock Show and patroness of the young stock raisers; she kept the bidding high at the 4-H and Future Farmers of America auctions and donated most of her purchases for resale. Only in advanced age would she finally allow a grandson to dispatch her bids. Her most important philanthropy was the Mary E. Bivins Foundation, established in 1949 to sponsor medical and social programs for the needy elderly. In 1951 the foundation built the Elizabeth Jane Bivins Home, a retirement center later expanded and remodeled into a social care facility. The Bivins Memorial Nursing Home followed in 1968. The foundation cooperates with regional academic and hospital nursing programs to give nursing students experience in nursing-home work. Mrs. Bivins died in Amarillo on December 31, 1951, and was buried in Llano Cemetery.