Josephine Marsalis Clardy Fox, art collector and benefactor, was born in Liberty Township, Missouri, on August 13, 1881, the only child of Zeno Blanks and Allie (Davis) Clardy. In 1882 her family moved to El Paso, where her father established a legal business. His frequent acceptance of valuable property in lieu of money for legal services formed the foundation for a considerable fortune. Josephine Clardy attended public schools until 1895, when she enrolled in a private girls' school in St. Louis. Her enjoyment of drama and music classes there prompted a lifelong interest in the arts.
After her father's death in 1901, she studied music in El Paso, San Francisco, and New York City and traveled in the United States and in Europe. Although she had a fine voice, she gave up singing entirely in later years. As a young woman she suffered an eye injury that eventually led to a partial loss of sight. On January 20, 1916, Josephine Clardy married Eugene Emmett Fox, a railroad executive, in New York City; they had no children. They settled in El Paso, where Mrs. Fox began collecting fine furniture and art for their home at 1119 Montana Street.
The thirties were difficult years for her. She was in a serious car accident in the early thirties that left her back permanently damaged, and she suffered serious financial setbacks, frequently finding it difficult to pay the taxes on her family's land. Financial obligations kept her in El Paso while her husband worked in Washington, D.C. He died in 1934, and in 1940 her mother, to whom she was very close, also died. After the depression, however, her fortunes began to improve, and she participated in El Paso's social and cultural events until poor health intervened in the 1960s. She was a supporter of the El Paso Museum of Art, the El Paso Symphony Orchestra, the El Paso Community Concert Association, and the Dallas Civic Opera. She was a member of the El Paso County Historical Society, the National Society of Arts and Letters, and numerous other social and charitable clubs. She was named to the Advisory Committee of the National Arts Foundation in 1953.
In the mid-forties, with the help of William J. Elliott, Josephine Fox began developing large tracts of land formerly used to grow cotton. This development, together with two profitable land sales in the late 1950s, made her a wealthy woman. Her increased affluence enabled her to buy a number of paintings and other art objects from Count Ivan Podgoursky and Count Louis von Cseh in the late fifties and sixties. She paid high prices for works falsely attributed to Antoine Watteau, Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Gainsborough, Diego Velázquez, and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, but did acquire a valuable painting by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot and a portrait of George Washington by a follower of Gilbert Stuart. She was more successful in assembling an extensive collection of decorative art objects; her home was filled with fine antique furniture, a large collection of beautiful and historic fans, rare silver boxes and flatware, fine porcelain, a large collection of antique clocks, and Limoges enamels. She also gave land to the city of El Paso to establish a school in memory of her father and a branch library in her name. She made charitable gifts to the El Paso Symphony, the Hotel Dieu School of Nursing, the Salvation Army, the United Fund, and a number of other churches, schools, and charities.
In 1959 Fox fell and broke her hip, necessitating surgery and a long convalescence. She broke the same hip in 1964, and spent the rest of her life in the hospital. She was a Presbyterian for most of her life but was converted to Catholicism shortly before her death. She died on May 11, 1970, and left her entire estate, valued at more than $3 million, to the University of Texas at El Paso, the largest gift to the institution at that time. Her collection of 1,000 books, some very old and rare, went to the University of Texas at El Paso library. Hundreds of the picture hats that Fox loved to wear were given to the university's drama department for use in costumes. Some of the oil paintings, antique furniture, and fine art objects from her home are exhibited in various places on the University of Texas at El Paso campus, including Hoover House, the president's home, and the conference room and faculty dining room at the Centennial Museum. In addition, the Centennial Museum has lent many of her decorative art objects and furniture to the Quinta Gameras Museum at the University of Chihuahua.
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