On the evening of Wednesday, February 12, 1941, Homer Rainey, the president of The University of Texas, took the stage of the university’s Hogg Auditorium. He was there for the formal inauguration ceremony of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Hygiene.
In the audience were university faculty members, elected and appointed state officials, members of the news media, prominent Texas philanthropists, and nationally recognized experts in the emerging field of mental health.
As a privately endowed philanthropy housed within a public university, the Hogg Foundation was structurally unique. It also stood out as the only organization of its kind in the nation to be devoted solely to mental health. Also, the university affiliation allowed the foundation to leverage the expertise, reputation, and resources of the university to make the most of its initially modest operating budget.
Rainey told the audience that they were present for “some real history in the making” that night. The new foundation, he explained, “is going to play the most important role in the redirection of education for the next 20 years – mental health for the normal man.”
Rainey was hardly alone in holding this seemingly grandiose view. Public anticipation of the foundation’s inauguration had been building for nearly two years, ever since the announcement in July 1939 that the Hogg family had made a $2.5 million bequest to establish a “mental health program” at the state’s flagship university.
During the year prior to the inaugural ceremony, Rainey fielded a steady stream of inquiries from across Texas and other parts of the country. The writers were graduate students, university professors, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, community groups in Texas, researchers in Chicago, professionals in Los Angeles and Boston, and private citizens from across Texas.
Some of the writers sought jobs. Others requested in-service training, expressed their desire to enroll in university courses on mental health, requested educational literature on mental health, or eagerly requested more information about the new foundation. Faculty members from universities in and outside of Texas sent their curricula vitae.
Clearly, the coming of the Hogg Foundation had tapped into a wellspring of excitement, as expressed in one handwritten letter: "I almost can’t believe this wonderful news. I am only twenty-three years old, a recent college graduate – but I know the need and value of such a program. I just thrill to think that Texas will enjoy the privileges of this work. I want to have a part in it. I want to work – and I have long yearned, really, to be allowed to enter this type of work. I know that I haven’t the necessary specialized training and experience for the technical, scientific side of the work, but isn’t there something I could do?"
The ceremony thus held different meanings for its varied participants. For its hosts at The University of Texas, it announced a new financial endowment from a prominent Texas family. Other observers looked to the new foundation as a source of support for social reform, not only for its stated purpose to promote “mental hygiene for the people of Texas” but for its association with the Hogg family, which had built a reputation for deploying its wealth for the public good.
For Robert Lee Sutherland, the inaugural director of the Hogg Foundation, it was the beginning of what would prove his life’s great mission — to use the foundation as a vehicle for improving mental health not only for the people of Texas, but for the nation.