Clara Driscoll, businesswoman, philanthropist, and historic preservationist, was born on April 2, 1881, to Robert and Julia (Fox) Driscoll in St. Mary’s, Texas, near the site of present Bayside. Her ancestors were among the Irish Catholic pioneers who had settled the area between the Nueces and Guadalupe rivers, and both of her grandfathers had fought in the Texas Revolution. By 1890 her father had amassed a multimillion-dollar empire in ranching, banking, and commercial developments centered in the Corpus Christi area. For her education he sent his only daughter to private schools in Texas, New York City, and France.
Photograph, a plaque at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, recognizes Clara Driscoll’s efforts to preserve the Alamo. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
After almost a decade of study and travel abroad, Clara Driscoll returned to Texas at the age of eighteen, imbued with an appreciation of the importance of preserving historic sites in Texas for the benefit of future generations. She was shocked to discover the disrepair of the three-acre plaza and the old convent (also known as the Long Barrack) adjoining San Antonio de Valero Mission, familiarly called the Alamo, and to learn that the property might soon be converted into a hotel. Although the state of Texas owned the iconic Alamo church, the Long Barrack was owned by local merchants and plastered with signs and billboards. From 1903 to 1905 Driscoll worked with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) to draw attention to their efforts to acquire and preserve the structure, and in 1905 she personally paid most of the purchase price. The state of Texas later reimbursed her and granted custodianship of both the Alamo church and the Long Barrack to the DRT. The attractive young philanthropist received extensive national publicity as the “Savior of the Alamo.”
She then pursued a writing career. She wrote a novel, The Girl of La Gloria (1905), a collection of short stories, In the Shadow of the Alamo (1906), and a comic opera, Mexicana, the production of which she financed on Broadway in 1906. That same year she married Henry Hulme (Hal) Sevier at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The Seviers, who had met several years earlier in Austin, when Sevier was serving in the Texas legislature, remained in New York. Hal served as financial editor of the New York Sun, and Clara served as the president of the Texas Club and entertained extensively at their opulent villa on Long Island.
After Clara Sevier’s father died in 1914, the Seviers returned to Austin to be near her family’s financial interests. Sevier established a daily newspaper, the Austin American (see AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN), and his wife became active in the Austin Garden Club and Pan American Round Table and served as president of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. She also directed construction of Laguna Gloria, a fine Italianate mansion located on the Colorado River near the city.
At the death of her brother, Robert Driscoll, Jr., in 1929, Mrs. Sevier closed Laguna Gloria and moved with her husband to her family’s Palo Alto ranch headquarters to manage extensive land and petroleum properties and to serve as president of the Corpus Christi Bank and Trust Company. Under her astute leadership the financial dominion almost doubled in value. After a two-year residence in Santiago, Chile, while her husband served as the United States ambassador there, the Seviers returned to Texas in 1935 and shortly thereafter legally separated. When the childless, thirty-one-year marriage was dissolved, Clara legally resumed her maiden name and was thereafter officially known as Mrs. Clara Driscoll.
Photograph, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas at Laguna Gloria, ca. 1916-1929. Clara Driscoll is standing in the front row near the center with her dress draped at the hips. Image courtesy of Humanities Texas. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
During the next decade much of her time, energy, and money were devoted to historic preservation, civic betterment, and club activity. She assisted the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs in liquidating the mortgage on its Austin clubhouse, served as vice chairman of the Texas Centennial Exposition executive board, and presented Laguna Gloria to the Texas Fine Arts Association to be used as a museum (see LAGUNA GLORIA ART MUSEUM). To memorialize her brother and to improve the economic life of Corpus Christi, she constructed the lavish twenty-story Hotel Robert Driscoll, where she occupied the large penthouse apartment. Colorful, outspoken, and independent-minded, Driscoll relished participation in the political arena. She was elected the Democratic party‘s national committeewoman from Texas in 1922 and served in that position for an unprecedented sixteen years. In 1939 she promoted the candidacy of her friend John Nance Garner for president. After Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected for a third term, however, she remained loyal to what she considered the best interests of her party and supported Roosevelt’s fourth-term efforts during a bitter battle at the 1944 state convention. Her political acumen and activity were acknowledged to be of national importance, and it was said that “political potentates and Texas voters knew her equally well.”
Clara Driscoll was a Catholic. She died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 17, 1945, in Corpus Christi. After her body had lain in state at the Alamo chapel, she was interred at the Masonic Cemetery in San Antonio. She bequeathed the bulk of her family fortune to establish the Driscoll Foundation Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi.