The original vision for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health sounds deceptively simple: Provide a “mental health program for the people of Texas.” These were the words found in the Hogg family’s bequest to The University of Texas in July 1939, which provided an endowment of $2.5 million. The birth of the foundation during the subsequent year marked a number of “firsts.” It was the first professionally managed foundation in Texas, the first private foundation to be housed within a public university, and the first private foundation dedicated solely to the cause of mental health. As for what it would mean, in practice, to be first — that may have presented the greatest challenge of all.

The phrase “mental health” – more often stated as “mental hygiene” at the time of the foundation’s inauguration – was largely unknown in Texas. During the first decade of the 20th century, the idea had emerged out of a national movement based in the northeastern United States. Led by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (NCMH), the movement included former patients of mental hospitals, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, elected officials, judges, journalists, and prominent citizens such as Ima Hogg, who helped found the Texas Society for Mental Hygiene in 1934.

Ima Hogg (“Miss Ima” to her contemporaries) became interested in mental health after her own personal experiences with emotional trauma. As a child, she toured Texas’ mental hospitals with her father, Governor James Stephen Hogg, during his two terms (1890-1895). She formed friendships with some of the children she met in those hospitals, while her father read widely in the scholarly literature on mental illness. Hogg would see both of her parents pass away during her childhood; her grief would contribute both to her own experience of depression, and to her interest in psychology, and she would go to on to study psychology as an undergraduate at The University of Texas.

A protracted bout with depression led her physicians to refer her to experts in the new field of psychotherapy in the early 1920s. This led Hogg to the office of Austin Fox Riggs, one of the most prominent therapists and public advocates for mental health in the United States. From Riggs, she learned about “positive mental health” for “everyday living.” She also was brought into contact with the NCMH and mental health consultants at the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the new professionally managed philanthropies that emerged in the early twentieth century. Inspired by the mental health movement, she helped found the Houston Child Guidance Center in 1929.

It was during this period that Hogg began to develop her vision for mental health. Advocates argued that mental health and mental illness existed on a continuum and, therefore, that people living with mental illness by and large should be able to receive professional treatment in community-based rather than institutional settings. They further argued that mental health principles of emotional balance and adjustment could be applied to practically every situation found in everyday life, such as family relations, schools, and workplaces.

Another family tragedy would lead Hogg to apply these new ideas with greater impact. The sudden passing of her older brother Will C. Hogg in 1930 left Ima and her brother Mike with a large family estate and broad directives about how to dispose of it. Remembering her many long talks with Will about mental health, Ima convinced Mike that Will’s estate should be directed toward an endowment for a mental health foundation at his beloved alma mater, The University of Texas. And so began, as UT President Homer Rainey would state at the Hogg Foundation’s inaugural ceremony in February 1941, “some real history in the making.”

The foundation’s vision would begin to come into focus with input from numerous other key stakeholders during its formative months. Fortuitously, Rainey was an academic social scientist who was well-connected with the national mental health movement. He and Ima collaborated in assembling an advisory committee composed of some of the leading national experts on mental health, and in hiring as the foundation’s first director Robert Lee Sutherland, an academician trained at the University of Chicago’s respected sociology program.

The result of this collaboration of public intellectuals, academic leaders, and prominent philanthropists was a unique vision commensurate with a unique organization.