Zavala, Adina Emilia De (1861–1955)

By: L. Robert Ables

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: January 15, 2021

Adina Emilia De Zavala, preservationist, eldest of six children of Augustine and Julia (Tyrrell) De Zavala and granddaughter of Lorenzo and Emily (West) de Zavala, was born on November 28, 1861, in Harris County. She and her parents used De as the beginning of their surname. The family lived at Galveston before moving to a ranch near San Antonio about 1873. The young Adina attended Ursuline Academy at Galveston from 1871 to 1873, was enrolled at Sam Houston Normal Institute at Huntsville in 1879, from which she graduated in 1881, and later attended a school of music in Missouri. She taught school at Terrell from 1884 to 1886 and later in San Antonio. About 1889 she and other San Antonio women met to discuss Texas and its heroes; this group became one of the first societies composed of women organized for patriotic purposes in the state. In 1893 members of this society became affiliated with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. One of Miss Zavala's greatest contributions to Texas was the preservation of a portion of the old San Antonio de Valero Mission, better known as the Alamo, which her group prevented from being razed in the early twentieth century. The state had purchased the chapel of the Alamo from the Catholic Church in 1883, but in 1886 Hugo and Schmeltzer Company, a wholesale grocery firm, bought the Alamo mission convent, also known as the monastery, long barracks, or fortress, which was the scene of the major resistance by Alamo defenders against the Mexican forces headed by Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1836. As early as 1892, before her historical group affiliated with the DRT, Adina De Zavala extracted a verbal promise from the grocery firm to give her chapter first chance at buying the property.

Clara Driscoll joined the society and the DRT in 1903, and the next year she purchased the Hugo and Schmeltzer Company property to prevent an "eastern syndicate" from acquiring it. The Texas legislature authorized state purchase of the property from Miss Driscoll in January 1905 and gave custody of the Alamo to the DRT, but soon the women began to disagree upon procedures for preservation of the Alamo and upon exactly what constituted the Alamo at the time of its siege and fall in 1836. The women split into two factions, one led by Adina De Zavala and the other by Clara Driscoll, and fought for control of the state organization of the DRT and the Alamo. Certain legal aspects of the battle were settled by state courts, which in a series of decisions ruled in favor of the Driscoll group as the de jure DRT in 1909. While Clara Driscoll and others in the DRT expressed desires to destroy the dilapidated Hugo and Schmeltzer building in the mistaken belief that it was erected after the 1836 battle, Adina De Zavala led the opposition in a resolute and voluble stand against any such move and was instrumental in the preservation of portions of the original wall of the convent. In fact, she barricaded herself inside the north barrack of the Alamo for three days in February 1908 to protest its destruction. She believed that this section of the mission had more historical value than the Alamo chapel. She and the DRT renewed the feud over historical questions revolving around the Alamo at intervals, and time has proved that Adina De Zavala was correct in most of her historical contentions concerning the mission.

In 1912 she organized the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association, which placed thirty-eight markers at historic sites in Texas. She probably did more than any other one person in stirring interest in the preservation of the Spanish Governor's Palace in San Antonio, which was finally purchased in 1928 by the city and restored. In the 1930s she helped establish the location near Crockett of sites of the first two missions established in Texas by the Spanish (see SPANISH MISSIONS). In 1923 Governor Pat Neff appointed her to the Texas Historical Board, and she was one of the original members of the Committee of One Hundred appointed to plan for a state centennial. She also served on the advisory board of the Texas Centennial Committee. She was a charter member of the Texas State Historical Association and a member of the executive council of that body beginning in 1919. In 1945 she was elected an honorary life fellow of the association. De Zavala was a dedicated Catholic and a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Texas Folklore Society, the Philosophical Society of Texas, the Texas Woman's Press Association, and many other organizations. She was the author of a book, History and Legends of the Alamo and Other Missions in and Around San Antonio (1917) pamphlets, including The Story of the Siege and Fall of the Alamo: A Résumé (1911); and a contributor to the Handbook of Texas (1952). Adina De Zavala died on March 1, 1955, and was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in San Antonio.

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Robert L. Ables, "The Second Battle for the Alamo," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 70 (January 1967). Adina De Zavala Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Historians
  • Literature
  • Folklorists
  • Women
  • Education
  • Educators
  • Tejanos
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders
  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Preservationists
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Central Texas
  • San Antonio

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

L. Robert Ables, “Zavala, Adina Emilia De,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022,

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January 15, 2021

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