Cullinan, Nina J. (1899–1983)

By: Carol Brown

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: December 7, 2016

Nina J. Cullinan, patron of Houston arts and parks, daughter of Lucie (Halm) and Joseph S. Cullinan, was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1899. She was one of five children. Joseph Cullinan was a founder of the Magnolia Petroleum Company and helped organize the Texas Company in Beaumont shortly after the oil strike at Spindletop oilfield in 1902. The Cullinans moved to Beaumont when Nina was three. She grew up in Houston, attended Houston public schools, a prep school, and Ogontz College in Pennsylvania.

After college she followed her family's tradition of actively participating in civic life. She was a founding member of the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Society For Performing Arts, and the Houston Ballet Foundation. She also served on boards of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Municipal Arts Commission, the Fine Arts Advisory Council of the University of Texas, and the American Federation of Art. She was a leading benefactor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. In the 1950s she funded the building of the Cullinan Hall of the Museum of Fine Arts, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Nina Cullinan's philanthropy extended to other sectors of city life; she was a member of the boards of the Child Guidance Center, the Houston Mental Health Society, and the National Parks Commission. At her death she willed $4 million, more than half of her estate, to the Houston Parks Board for the development of new park space. In 1978 she was honored by the Society of Texas Architects for her donation to the Museum of Fine Arts for Cullinan Hall. She was among four Houstonians honored in 1982 by Mayor Kathryn J. Whitmire for contributions to the arts, and the same year a dinner was held in her honor by the Texas Project for the Archives of American Art. Nina Cullinan frequently made anonymous donations and placed few restrictions on charitable gifts. She died in Houston on February 22, 1983.

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Houston Post, July 1, 1956, October 31, 1982, February 23, 24, 25, 1983. Victoria Advocate, June 17, 1985.


  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Museums
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Visual Arts
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Carol Brown, “Cullinan, Nina J.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 22, 2021,

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December 1, 1994
December 7, 2016

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