Clara Driscoll lived from 1881 to 1945. She was born in Texas and went on to become a powerful business woman, who is most famous for having “saved the Alamo,” due to being able to provide the funding for its preservation.
Clara Driscoll was the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. Her father was a smart businessman who had made his fortune as a rancher, banker, and investor, and commercial developer. Clara was therefore able to receive an outstanding private education in New York City and France. She spoke four languages fluently.
By the age of 25, Driscoll had already written several books. One of her books went on to be adapted into a successful opera, Mexicana, which ran for 82 performances in New York City at the Lyric Theatre in 1906.
After spending time living in Europe, Driscoll moved to San Antonio. There, she noticed that the famous fortress and mission compound known as the Alamo, was in a sad state of disrepair. She complained in writing in the San Antonio Express about the “unsightly obstructions” surrounding the fortress. The state of Texas had bought the Alamo from the Roman Catholic Church by this time, and the State had put the city of San Antonio in charge of the Alamo. The city had not done anything to preserve or improve the Alamo.
In conjunction with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Clara Driscoll decided to take matters into her own hands. She first purchased the barracks that surrounded the Alamo using her own funds. Eventually state legislature was passed that ensured preservation of the Alamo, and Driscoll was reimbursed. The entire property then became the property of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Driscoll worked all her life to continue to help preserve the Alamo, using her own funds to do so when she deemed it necessary.
Clara continued to support philanthropic and civic endeavors for her entire life. She donated $92,000 to the Texas Foundation of Women’s Clubs in 1939 so that they could pay off their debts to their headquarters. In Austin, the committee members responded by declaring October 4th to be “Clara Driscoll Day,” and holding a formal reception for Clara.
In memory of her brother, Clara built the Hotel Robert Driscoll, which opened Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1942. Clara lived in the penthouse of the hotel. Today, this building is used as the Wells Fargo headquarters.
Clara donated a mansion that she had lived in with her previous husband, as well as an additional $5000, to the Texas Fine Arts Association Holding Company, in 1943.
In her will, Clara Driscoll established the Driscoll Foundation Children’s hospital, which is still in operation today in Corpus Christi.
I first learned about Clara Driscoll on a field trip to the Alamo in Junior High. I was enamored by Clara and her story, and impressed at her generosity, and could hardly believe the lengths she was willing to go to in order to preserve what was important to her. That was the day I learned what Philanthropy meant. Driscoll was certainly an extraordinary philanthropist, and she wasn’t afraid to leave her impact on the world – and on the great state of Texas, of course!