Mary's Gift to TCU

Edward McShane Waits

TCU President E.M. Waits

After her confinement in Weatherford, and fight for her fair share of the Burnett estate, Mary could've rested comfortably and returned to life as a wealthy woman in the Fort Worth social scene.  But Mary wanted to resume her philanthropic work and make a difference in Fort Worth.  She began looking for opportunities to contribute to her community.

On the morning of December 2, 1923, TCU President E.M. Waits received a phone call in his office.  Mary's attorney William Slay requested a meeting with Waits and Van Zandt Jarvis, then the president of the TCU Board of Trustees, at Mary's home on Summit Avenue.  At the meeting, Mary informed President Waits she would be giving her estate to TCU in trust. Her gift included a provision for $150,000 to be used to build one building on campus to honor the donor.  Waits responded immediately: "A library."

Portrait of Burk Burnett Jr.

Samuel "Burk" Burnett, Jr., 1895-1916

So why did Mary choose TCU?  Over the years, a mythology has built up around this decision.  Namely, self-made man Burk Burnett was hostile toward his money going to any educational or religious institution.  Perhaps, but he did desire his children to receive a better education than he did, and according to the minister who buried him, he donated to the First Christian Church in Fort Worth.  He also donated land in downtown Fort Worth to be used as a park.

In memory of her son, Burk Burnett Jr.

The Daily Herald (Weatherford, Tex.), December 13, 1923

Dr. Charles Harris, Mary's doctor and friend, took credit for leading his patient toward TCU.  But the inspiration for Mary to choose TCU as the benefactor of her vast wealth was much closer to home.  Her hometown newspaper, The Weatherford Daily Herald, quoted her, "Ever since the death of my son, Burk Burnett Jr., I have wanted to do for other Texas boys and girls some of the things which death deprived me from doing for my own boy.  I decided that the greatest good I could possibly accomplish would be to help the boys and girls of Texas to gain one asset which cannot be taken from them - an education." 

Two other significant gifts made by Mary further show her commitment to young people and education.  In her will, she donated $12,000 to the Dickson Colored Orphanage and School in Gilmer, Texas in honor of Melissa Hardin, the enslaved woman who helped to raise her.  At the time of her death, Mary's home on Summit Avenue was donated to the All-Church Home for underprivileged children.

Mary's Gift to TCU