In September 1930, Will Hogg was enjoying the 10th month of a European vacation. His sister Ima had joined him at Baden-Baden, a health resort in Germany, when Will suddenly experienced a “gall bladder attack” and died abruptly on September 12 after emergency surgery. He was 55.

After Will’s death, it would fall to Mike and Ima to dispose of his estate as stipulated in his will, which bequeathed about $2.5 million, nearly all of the estate’s worth, to an endowment fund.

The will spelled out three possible uses for the endowment: a vocational school for wayward boys and girls at Varner Plantation; a “Lecture Foundation” supervised by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas; or “any foundation or benefaction for the common good of all or any part of Texas to which either or both of them (Mike and Ima) may design to bequeath the bulk of their estate or estates.”

After years of thinking about how best to use the estate, Ima convinced Mike that the optimal solution was to combine the last two options into one: to create an endowment that would be managed by The University of Texas but dedicated to the common good of all Texans. In particular, she envisioned a program dedicated to mental health, which had been a frequent topic of discussion between Ima and Will in the years prior to his unexpected death.

The problem was that nothing about mental health was specified in the will, and the option that mentioned the university was specific about what its purpose should be — to support a “Lecture Foundation.”

Initially both the Hogg family attorneys and the attorneys for the Board of Regents, whom Ima had approached about accepting the endowment, interpreted the will strictly and said that the purpose designated by Ima and Mike could not be administered through the university.

After extended negotiations between attorneys for both sides, however, and an investigation by a Medical Committee appointed by the Board of Regents, a consensus was formed that the proposed foundation could combine the two directives.

On July 15, 1939, the Will C. Hogg endowment was transferred to the Board of Regents of The University of Texas. The board was empowered to manage the endowment “in trust” for the wishes of Will C. Hogg as stated in his will. Included in this arrangement was the stipulation that the endowment would be used for a mental health program.

But trouble resumed after Mike Hogg signed over the endowment to the university. Shortly after the public announcement of the transaction, Hogg family attorney Stephen Pinckney, who had participated in the negotiations, told the Houston Post that the transfer of the endowment to the university conflicted with Will’s intentions just before his death to devote his personal fortune to civic projects for his home city of Houston – “which he considered the best place on earth.”

In addition to that objection, the university’s comptroller, J.W. Calhoun, sent a five-page brief to UT President Homer Rainey and at least one regent in the summer of 1940 in which he contended that Ima and Mike Hogg’s wishes “cannot change the conditions made by Will Hogg himself in his Will.”

The very act of transferring the Hogg endowment to the university, he argued, meant that it could function only as a lecture foundation, as outlined in the second option of the will, and that in allowing the heirs to violate the spirit of the bequest, the university risked alienating future donors who would justifiably fear that their own wishes would be betrayed after their deaths.

“There are but two courses open when money such as this is tendered to an institution,” he wrote. “It must decline the offer or carry out the directions of the donor.”

Scarcely a year into its role as administrator of the Hogg endowment, the university thus found itself in the awkward position of debating donor intent with the donor’s closest living relatives.

The record suggests that an attempt was made to avoid a direct confrontation with Ima Hogg over the matter in 1940-42. Planning documents show that the Hogg Foundation’s first director, Robert Sutherland, felt that he had to walk a tightrope in these early years. 

Publicly, the foundation emphasized its support of lectureships and often downplayed the fact that its circuit-riding lecturers were talking exclusively about mental health. Internally, it was very clear that it was mental health concerns that were the motivating mission of the foundation.

This approach seemed to appease the university, but Sutherland grew increasingly worried that it was unsustainable, and that Ima Hogg, in particular, would find it unsatisfactory. 

Confiding to Rainey in March 1942, Sutherland wrote that “he was more convinced than ever that she will not be reassured concerning the interpretation of her brother’s will until she receives an explanation in writing from the Board of Regents indicating that mental hygiene is to be the exclusive purpose of the Foundation.”

Under sustained pressure from Sutherland, Rainey requested a formal evaluation from the University of Texas Land Attorney, who concluded that “a portion of this trust estate (Will’s estate) can be used by the Board of Regents as a Lecture Foundation, and a portion thereof can be used in establishing and maintaining a mental health program as contemplated by Mr. Mike Hogg and Miss Ima Hogg.”

This statement frustrated Ima, who desired that the foundation that bore her family’s name dispense with its divided program and focus all its energies on mental health.

“My Brother Mike and I were perfectly clear as to our intentions when we finally decided upon a ‘Mental Health Foundation’ for the University of Texas,” she wrote in a letter to Sutherland. “And we believed we were clearly empowered to make that choice.”

The disagreement culminated in an official report, written by President Rainey and presented to the Board of Regents at their meeting of October 23, 1942. The Rainey report argued that the foundation combined two of the three potential directives laid out in the Hogg will, and that this was permissible.

In addition, the report conveyed a warning from Ima: “She has ... instructed me to say to the Board of Regents that unless it is clearly understood that her brother’s estate is to be used for a mental hygiene foundation, she and other members of her family will no longer feel under obligation to turn their estates into the Foundation.”

In response, the board appointed a special subcommittee to investigate the matter. A report was presented to the board at its January 8, 1943, meeting, recommending that the board agree upon the name “Hogg Foundation for Mental Hygiene,” which it did by unanimous vote.