Runge, Johanna (1856–1933)

By: Adrianna Rodriguez and M. Grace Slayter

Type: Biography

Published: July 26, 2021

Updated: July 26, 2021

Johanna Runge, wife, mother, arts patron, and founder of the first free kindergarten in Galveston, was born on April 25, 1856, in Indianola, Texas, near Matagorda Bay. She was the eldest of five children born to wealthy German immigrants Johanna Dorothea Juliana “Julia” (Hornung) Runge and Henry Runge. Her father founded a pioneer banking house and shipping business and served as consul for the city of Hamburg, Germany, in Indianola, which made the family influential in the region. Johanna grew up comfortably in a nice home with the benefit of education, books, and music. The Runge family lived in Indianola until 1861 when they moved inland to New Braunfels as the Civil War caused concern for those who lived on the Texas coast. In 1866 the family moved to Galveston, Texas. Johanna lived in Germany from 1869 to 1872 to complete her education. After Henry Runge’s death in 1873, Johanna’s mother moved the family back to Germany, where Johanna married her first cousin, Julius Runge, in 1876. Julius had resided with Johanna’s family in Galveston since 1867 and worked for Henry Runge’s importation company, Kauffman and Runge.

After they married, Johanna and Julius returned to Galveston. She ran the household, and he was a partner at Kauffman and Runge with Johanna’s brothers, Henry J. and Louis H. Runge. Between 1877 and 1893 Johanna bore seven children that lived to adulthood: Julia, George, Margaret, Henry, Johanna, Julius, and Frank Runge. Her husband held numerous public offices, including consul for the German empire, served on several companies’ boards, and became president of the Cotton Exchange and Board of Trade in Galveston, which gave Johanna and the family a position of prominence in the city. Johanna also shared ownership of the Las Moras Ranch in Menard County with her siblings.

Johanna is most known for starting the first free kindergarten program, the Johanna Runge Free Kindergarten, for children of working families in Galveston. In 1892 Johanna and the other influential women she recruited to be on the school’s board of directors talked to working families in west Galveston. They garnered support for the program with public talks, and they met with local leaders, including Rabbi Henry Cohen and editors of the Galveston Daily News. With their support, Johanna secured a nearby church to house the school and raised money for furniture and supplies. Her husband also donated funds. Johanna’s inspiration for the program came from the private kindergartens that her children attended. In January 1893 she opened a full-day kindergarten that provided Progressive-era education for fifty White children of parents that worked at the Galveston Cotton and Woolen Mills, where her husband was one of the directors. This enterprise was Runge’s first foray into public work of this type because, as she stated later, she had previously “devoted all [her] time to [her] home and children.” She and the school’s teachers often provided the children with clean clothing, aprons, and handkerchiefs. With the parents’ permission, she brought many “unkempt and dirty” children home and bathed them before they were returned home to their parents. Although the parent’s thoughts on this practice are not known, Johanna sympathized with working mothers’ plight of long hours, which made teaching and caring for children difficult.

Runge’s kindergarten grew each year of its operation and quickly inspired others to open in Galveston. She, Minna Fowler, and Rebecca Harris filed incorporation papers for the Johanna Runge Free Kindergarten Association with the state in 1898. Johanna served as president of the school’s board for five years, then continued to work on its behalf under the leadership of her predecessor Fowler. Johanna spoke on kindergarten training at the third annual meeting of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs on April 20, 1900. Due to state federation support, the school reopened only a few months after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 devastated the city in September.

After the hurricane, the Runge family relocated in Austin, Texas. There, Johanna’s daughter, Julia, quickly opened a private kindergarten and a kindergarten teacher training school, then later moved to Houston and established a public kindergarten in 1903. Johanna’s husband traveled regularly to and from Galveston to oversee the rebuilding of his business interests. In 1904 their son, George, died of illness in Fort Worth, and in 1906 Johanna’s husband died in Galveston.

Johanna Runge remained active in Austin and Galveston social circles. She opened a free kindergarten program at the Girls’ Co-operative Home in Austin in 1910. She also established a reputation as a patron of the arts in Texas, in part due to her friendship with Elisabet Ney. The Runges were among Ney’s first friends in Texas and met through Julius’s position as Galveston’s German consul when Ney first arrived in the early 1870s. In approximately 1887 Ney sculpted busts of Johanna and Julius that she then gave to the couple. These sculptures were among the earliest crafted by Ney in Texas. Ney also created a plaster portrait medallion of Johann’s daughter Margaret Runge Rose in 1897. After the artist’s passing in 1907, Runge became a founding member of the Texas Fine Arts Association and helped preserve Ney’s studio and its contents to create the Elisabet Ney Museum. She also collected photographs by Samuel B. Hill, which she donated to the Texas State Archives in 1920. In the late 1920s she also contributed biographical information about her mother to Annie Doom Pickrell’s Pioneer Women in Texas (1929).

Johanna Runge died on April 9, 1933, while visiting her daughter, Julia, in San Antonio. Her body was returned to Austin where she was buried in Oakwood Cemetery alongside her daughter, Johanna, who died in 1925; her son, George; and her husband. Shortly before Johanna’s death, she donated the busts of herself and her husband to the Elisabet Ney Museum. The free kindergarten program that she began in Galveston eventually became part of the Galveston public school system, and the Johanna Runge Free Kindergarten Association remained a nonprofit organization until 1948. See also Education.

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Denise Alexander, Galveston's Historic Downtown and Strand District (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2010). AustinAmerican, April 10, 1933. Austin Statesman, October 14, 1900; February 8, 1906; June 6, 1912. John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: L. E. Daniels, 1899). James Cox, Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen of Texas and Adjacent Territory (St. Louis: Woodward & Tiernan Printing Company, 1894). Emily Fourmy Cutrer, The Art of the Woman: The Life and Work of Elisabet Ney (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988). Daily Texan (Austin, Texas), Apr. 18, 1933. Galveston Daily News, December 14, 1892; October 4, 1905; October 15, 1911. Marjory Goar, Marble Dust the Life of Elisabet Ney: An Interpretation (Austin: Eakin Press, 1984). Henry J. Hauschild, The Runge Chronicle: A German Saga of Success (Austin: Whitley Company, 1990). Houston Post, April 15, 1900. Kaufman and Runge Papers, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas. Lawrence H. Konecny and Clinton Machann, Perilous Voyages: Czech and English Immigrants to Texas in the 1870s (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004). Brownson Malsch, Indianola: The Mother of Western Texas (Austin: State House Press, 1988). Judith N. McArthur, Creating the New Woman: The Rise of Southern Women’s Progressive Culture in Texas, 1893–1918(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998). Annie Doom Pickrell, Pioneer Women in Texas (Austin: E. L. Steck Company, 1929; reprint, Austin: State House Press, 1991). Johanna Runge Collection of Samuel B. Hill Photographs, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Texas Court Reporter: Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Courts of Civil Appeals of the State of Texas (Ann Arbor: Ben C. Jones & Company, 1905). Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Women, Culture, and Community: Religion and Reform in Galveston, 1880–1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Advocates
  • Civic Leaders
  • Education
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • School Founders
  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Museums
  • Art Museums
  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Visual Arts
  • Sculpture
  • Women
  • Preservationists
  • Women's Clubs
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Galveston

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

Adrianna Rodriguez and M. Grace Slayter, “Runge, Johanna,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

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July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021

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