Ima Hogg, philanthropist and patron of the arts, daughter of Sarah Ann (Stinson) and Governor James Stephen Hogg, was born in Mineola, Texas, on July 10, 1882. She had three brothers, William Clifford Hogg, born in 1875; Michael, born in 1885; and Thomas Elisha Hogg, born in 1887. According to family history, Ima was named for the heroine of a Civil War poem written by her uncle Thomas Elisha. Her name became a part of Texas folklore, along with the myth of a fictitious sister supposedly named Ura. Ima Hogg was affectionately known as Miss Ima for most of her long life. She was eight years old when her father was elected governor; she spent much of her early life in Austin. After her mother died of tuberculosis in 1895, Ima attended the Coronal Institute in San Marcos, and in 1899 she entered the University of Texas.
She started playing the piano at age three and in 1901 went to New York to study music. Her father’s illness drew her back to Texas in 1905. After his death in 1906 she continued her music studies in Berlin and Vienna from 1907 to 1909. She then moved to Houston, where she gave piano lessons to a select group of pupils and helped found the Houston Symphony Orchestra, which played its first concert in June 1913. Miss Ima served as the first vice president of the Houston Symphony Society and became president in 1917. She became ill in late 1918 and spent the next two years in Philadelphia under the care of a specialist in mental and nervous disorders. She did not return to Houston to live until 1923.
In the meantime, oil had been struck on the Hogg property near West Columbia, Texas, and by the late 1920s Miss Ima was involved in a wide range of philanthropic projects. In 1929 she founded the Houston Child Guidance Center, an agency to provide therapy and counseling for disturbed children and their families. In 1940, with a bequest from her brother Will, who had died in 1930, she established the Hogg Foundation for Mental Hygiene, which later became the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas. In 1943 Miss Hogg, a lifelong Democrat, won an election to the Houston school board, where she worked to establish symphony concerts for schoolchildren, to get equal pay for teachers regardless of sex or race, and to set up a painting-to-music program in the public schools.
In 1946 she again became president of the Houston Symphony Society, a post she held until 1956, and in 1948 she became the first woman president of the Philosophical Society of Texas. Since the 1920s she had been studying and collecting early American art and antiques, and in 1966 she presented her collection and Bayou Bend, the River Oaks mansion she and her brothers had built in 1927, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The Bayou Bend Collection, recognized as one of the finest of its kind, draws thousands of visitors each year.
In the 1950s Miss Ima restored the Hogg family home at Varner Plantation near West Columbia, and in 1958 she presented it to the state of Texas. It became Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historical Site. In the 1960s she restored the Winedale Inn, a nineteenth-century stagecoach stop at Round Top, Texas, which she gave to the University of Texas. The Winedale Historical Center now serves as a center for the study of Texas history and is also the site of a widely acclaimed annual fine arts festival. Miss Hogg also restored her parents' home at Quitman, Texas, and in 1969 the town of Quitman established the Ima Hogg Museum in her honor.
In 1953 Governor Allan Shivers appointed her to the Texas State Historical Survey Committee (later the Texas Historical Commission), and in 1967 that body gave her an award for "meritorious service in historic preservation." In 1960 she served on a committee appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the planning of the National Cultural Center (now Kennedy Center) in Washington, D.C. In 1962, at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy, Ima Hogg served on an advisory panel to aid in the search for historic furniture for the White House. She was also honored by the Garden Club of America (1959), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (1966), and the American Association for State and Local History (1969).
In 1968 Miss Hogg was the first recipient of the Santa Rita Award, given by the University of Texas System to recognize contributions to the university and to higher education. In 1969 she, Oveta Culp Hobby, and Lady Bird Johnson became the first three women members of the Academy of Texas, an organization founded to honor persons who "enrich, enlarge, or enlighten" knowledge in any field. In 1971 Southwestern University gave Miss Hogg an honorary doctorate in fine arts, and in 1972 the National Society of Interior Designers gave her its Thomas Jefferson Award for outstanding contributions to America's cultural heritage. The Houston Symphony established in her name an annual instrumental contest for young musicians (ages thirteen to thirty)—the Ima Hogg Competition. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History presented an annual Ima Hogg Award for Historical Achievement.
On August 19, 1975, at the age of ninety-three, Ima Hogg died of complications from a traffic accident that occurred while she was vacationing in England. Her funeral was at Bayou Bend. She was buried on August 23 in the Hogg family plot in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin. The major benefactor in her will was the Ima Hogg Foundation, a charitable nonprofit organization she established in 1964.