Clotilde Pérez García, physician, activist, author, educator, and sister of noted civil rights activist Hector P. García, was born in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on January 9, 1917. She was the fourth of seven children born to José García, a college professor, and Faustina Pérez García, a schoolteacher. In 1917 the family fled to the United States to escape the violence and instability of the Mexican Revolution. They eventually settled with other extended family members in Mercedes, Texas, in 1918 and opened a dry goods store.
From an early age García’s parents stressed the importance of education and a professional career path. Each night, after attending Mercedes public schools, she and her siblings received advanced instruction in a wide variety of subjects from their father. This would ultimately pay off. Six of the seven García children went on to receive advanced medical degrees. After graduating from Mercedes High School in 1934, García attended Edinburg Junior College (now part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) and received her associate’s degree in 1936. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied pre-med, zoology, and chemistry, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1938.
García intended to enroll in medical school after graduation but delayed her plans because of the Great Depression. Instead, she returned home to provide financial support for her family. From the late 1930s through the 1940s García taught at several schools in the South Texas communities of Tienditas, Benavides, Hebbronville, and Mercedes. In 1940 she became a naturalized citizen. Around the same time she met Hipólito Canales of Hebbronville. They married in 1943 but divorced shortly afterwards. The couple had one child, José Antonio Canales, who later became one of the first Tejanos appointed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Advised by her father and older brothers, García returned to the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied Latin American literature under George I. Sánchez and earned a master’s in education in 1950. She then enrolled at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, the school previously attended by her older brothers José Antonio García and Hector Pérez García. She was one of only seven women—and the only Mexican American woman—to graduate from UTMB in 1954. García completed her internship at Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital in 1955 and opened a private practice in Corpus Christi; she was one of the first Mexican American women to practice medicine in the state.
García quickly earned a reputation as a devoted medical practitioner and community advocate. One of her primary goals was to provide adequate medical care for Corpus Christi’s poorest citizens, most of whom were Mexican Americans. Aside from treating the sick, she took an active interest in their lives and educated them about preventive medicine, hygiene, nutrition, and infant care. Over the course of her forty-year medical career, she delivered nearly 10,000 babies, and she was known to regularly attend the funerals of deceased patients. This special level of dedication helped to cement her status as a physician and community leader.
Beyond her duties as a physician, García remained active in the education community. Most notably, she served on the Del Mar College board of regents from 1960 to 1982. Prior to that, she was a member of the Del Mar College Vocational Nursing Advisory Committee and the Nueces County Hale-Aiken Committee, which made recommendations to the state for public school improvements. Additionally, in 1968 García founded the Carmelite Day Nursery Parents and Friends Club, a local education and fund-raising program for children of the working poor. She was also a staunch advocate for public school desegregation, bilingual education, and federally-funded school breakfast programs.
García also played an important role in the civil rights movement and often worked closely with her brother, Hector, who founded the American G.I. Forum in 1948. As a leader in the American G.I. Forum Women’s Auxiliary, Clotilde García participated in the Valley Farm Workers Minimum Wage March of 1966 (see STARR COUNTY STRIKE) and was state director of the G.I. Forum’s education committee. She also served as national health director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1966.
A lifelong Democrat, García helped organize local chapters of the Viva Kennedy and Viva Johnson campaigns of 1960 and 1964 and supported the War on Poverty programs of the 1960s as a board member of SER-Jobs for Progress and the Nueces County Community Action Agency, a nonprofit organization that facilitated the implementation of federal antipoverty programs at the county level. She later served on the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission of 1973, the Task Force to Evaluate Medicaid in Texas (1977), the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee, and the U.S. Senate Special Subcommittee on Aging.
In the mid-1970s García began to promote local history and Hispanic genealogy. In 1975 she published in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly a translated account of the 1812 Siege of Camargo, which was later expanded into a brief monograph. This was followed by eight additional volumes on important local historical figures, including José Nicolás Ballí, Blas María de la Garza Falcón, and Enrique Villarreal. García was also active in the Nueces County Historical Society, the Nueces County Historical Commission, the American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission, and the Nueces County Sesquicentennial Commission. In 1987 she co-founded the Spanish American Genealogical Association (SAGA) and served as the organization’s first president. SAGA worked to promote the research, collection, and development of genealogical data on the earliest Spanish and Mexican settlers of South Texas. The organization accomplished this by compiling and publishing previously unavailable genealogical records, donating microfilm and other research materials to the Corpus Christi Public Library, and hosting genealogical conferences. As a member of the Corpus Christi Quincentenary Commission, Dr. García also spearheaded the effort to commission sculptor Roberto García, Jr.’s 1992 statue of Christopher Columbus at the city’s port.
In recognition of her efforts to promote South Texas’s Hispanic past, García was awarded the Royal American Order of Isabella the Catholic by King Juan Carlos I of Spain in 1990 and was later appointed to the Texas Historical Commission by Governor Ann Richards. Other recognitions include the 1969 Community Leader of America Award from the Education Board Commission of Latin America and the 1972 Outstanding Citizen’s Award from the American G.I. Forum. Additionally, Del Mar College named their newly-constructed health sciences building in her honor in 1983, and in 1984 she was one of the first twelve women inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.
Clotilde García retired from medicine and reduced her public involvement after suffering a stroke in 1994. She died in Corpus Christi on May 23, 2003, and was buried at Seaside Memorial Park. In 2005 her personal papers, including a substantial collection of valuable research materials, were donated to the Special Collections and Archives Department at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. In 2006 the Tejano Genealogy Society of Austin created the Clotilde P. García Book Prize to promote the scholarly research of Tejano history, and in 2008 the city of Corpus Christi named the Dr. Clotilde P. García Public Library in her honor.