Ruth Young McGonigle, the first woman to practice architecture in the lower Rio Grande valley, was born on April 5, 1902, at Spindletop, Texas, the daughter of Robert Lee and Alice Eugenia (McKean) Young. She spent her youth in Beaumont and Houston and attended both St. Agnes Academy, Houston, and Houston High School, from which she graduated in 1918. She entered Rice Institute, where, in order to take studio courses in art, she studied architecture. Upon receiving her B.S. Arch. in 1924, she became the first woman to graduate in architecture from Rice. Ruth Young worked for the Houston architect William Ward Watkin, professor of architecture at Rice, until her marriage on September 29, 1925, to a former Rice classmate, George McGonigle, Jr. She settled in her husband's hometown, Brownsville, and there began independent architectural practice, working from her house. Mrs. McGonigle never sought to be licensed as an architect. Her work consisted principally of single-family houses, although she designed a number of public buildings in Brownsville, including the Episcopal Day School (1959) and St. Paul's Church (1959). Under her supervision one of the oldest buildings in Brownsville, the Neale house of 1850, was moved and adapted for use as a studio by the Brownsville Art League, an organization that she joined in founding and of which she was a lifelong member. From time to time she incorporated her artistic production in her building projects, the major example being a mural in the now-demolished Landrum's Restaurant. During the 1950s she designed floats for the annual Charro Days parades in Brownsville. Ruth McGonigle was one of five jurors for the design of the Fort Brown Memorial Center in Brownsville in 1951.
She displayed a keen awareness of the nineteenth-century Creole building traditions of the border country in her finest works, the Brown-Young house in the Brownsville subdivision of Los Ébanos and the Hert house in Rio Viejo. Her painterly instincts are evident in the sensitivity with which she reinterpreted traditional composition, proportion, and constructive detail in these romantic, regional-style houses. In the last decades of her life, she worked with the Brownsville Historical Association to document and preserve the city's rich architectural heritage. Among the losses that the association was unable to prevent was Mi Casita del Sur, a turn-of-the-century building in the border brick style that Mrs. McGonigle converted into a delightful courtyard house in 1941; it was demolished in 1981 by Tipotex Chevrolet Company. Ruth Young McGonigle and her husband, a businessman and farmer who was killed in an airplane accident on July 2, 1954, were the parents of two children. Mrs. McGonigle was a parishioner of the Church of the Advent. She died in Brownsville on April 14, 1984, and is buried at Buena Vista Burial Park. What remained of her architectural drawing collection at the time of her death was deposited in the Woodson Research Center of the Fondren Library, Rice University.