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Ella F. Fondren Family papers

Identifier: MS 0340
Finding aid note: Stored off-site at the Library Service Center. Please request this material via or call 713-348-2586. Allow 24 hours retrieval time.

Scope and Content

The collection, totaling seven document boxes and one upright bin, visually documents Ella Fondren's family members and homes, and describes her lifelong philanthropic efforts toward higher education and health care in the Houston area. Highlights include honors and awards bestowed on Mrs. Fondren and clippings, and photographs and reports of the construction progress of Methodist Hospital, Houston. Dates range from 1880s-1976 (bulk dates 1925-1960s), and formats include scrapbooks, photographs, drawings, certificates, plaques, resolutions, awards, citations, honorary degrees with academic hoods, with programs, newsclippings, and commemorative albums.


  • Creation: 1880 - 1976
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1925 - 1960


Access Restrictions

This material is open for research.

Conditions Governing Access

Stored off-site at the Library Service Center. Please request this material via or call 713-348-2586. Allow 24 hours retrieval time.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the Ella F. Fondren/Fondren Family Collection must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Biographical Note

Ella Florence Fondren (1880-1982), philanthropist, was born on June 1, 1880, the third child and elder daughter of Allen Cathy and Mary (Pogue) Cochrum of Hazel, Kentucky. When Ella was about six, the family moved to Corsicana, TX. Her father died in 1895, and she quit school to help care for her family with six siblings. As a teenager she worked in her family's boardinghouse. There she met Walter W. Fondren, her future husband, who worked as a driller. Fondren remained in Corsicana only a few years, leaving in 1901 to take drilling jobs in the Gulf Coast oilfields. He continued to stay in contact with Ella, however, and returned to marry her on Feb. 14, 1904. They had three children. Walter Fondren continued running operations in oilfields along the Gulf Coast but increasingly concentrated his drilling in the Humble oilfield northeast of Houston. He credited Ella with determining some of his oil acquisitions. In 1911 he became the major stockholder in the new Humble Oil Company (now Exxon Company, USA).

The Fondrens established the Fondren Lectures in Religious Thought at Southern Methodist University in 1919. They gave major financial support for the construction of a new building at St. Paul's Methodist Church in 1929. In 1938 they donated nearly half a million dollars to SMU to build the Fondren Library. Walter Fondren also made large contributions to the Methodist Home for Orphans at Waco. Walter Fondren died in Jan. 1939 while attending a Methodist conference. Ella Fondren carried on his philanthropic interests and assumed some of his directorial posts. She replaced him at Southern Methodist University, thereby becoming the first woman to serve on SMU's board of trustees and governors. In 1940 she succeeded him on the board of directors of the Methodist Home for Orphans at Waco and on the Methodist Board of Homes and Hospitals, retaining her position on the latter board for twenty years. In 1946 Ella Fondren and her children provided $1 million for the Fondren Library at Rice Institute.

The Fondren Foundation, established by Ella Fondren in 1948, made major grants to assist the expansion of Methodist Hospital in 1950 and 1976 and to launch the Fondren and Brown Cardiovascular and Orthopedic Research Center, completed in 1964. Fondren also ensured that the original Methodist Hospital operations remained solvent until a modern structure was completed in 1951. She served on the board of directors for Methodist Hospital for more than thirty years and on the board of Baylor University as well. Her foundation supported the growth of Baylor University College of Medicine and of St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. The Institute for Religion at the Texas Medical Center was launched with her support. She regularly visited the institutions her family has assisted, evaluated their facilities, and insisted that the buildings she funded be large and the equipment state-of-the-art. The Fondren family provided major support for science buildings at Southwestern University in Georgetown and at Southern Methodist University. The foundation also established the Fondren Scholarships and the Fondren Lectureships there. Scarritt College in Nashville, TN, named an education building for Ella Fondren in appreciation for her grant to construct the facility. When Rice University sought funds to add a research wing onto the Fondren Library in 1968, the Fondrens responded with another large grant. Ella Fondren left the Southern Methodist University board of trustees and governors in 1969 but continued serving on several other boards, especially that of Methodist Hospital. She outlived her children and spent her last five years at that facility, which provided both social opportunities and nursing care. She died there on May 3, 1982, shortly before her 102nd birthday and was buried at Forest Park Cemetery in Houston.


12 Linear Feet ( (18 boxes))

Language of Materials



The collection visually documents Ella Fondren's family members and homes, and describes her lifelong philanthropic efforts toward higher education and health care in the Houston area.


The collection is arranged in two series: Series I: Photographs and renderings, 1880s-1972, and Series II: Philanthropic-Awards, recognition, memorials, 1939-76.

Many of the collection's photographs were identified by various family members, and some remain unidentified. Family members pictured include Walter William Fondren, Walter William Fondren, Jr., Catherine Fondren Underwood, Milton R. Underwood, Sue Trammell, Bryan Trammell, and others. Many early family photos are not dated, but dates can be approximated in the 1880s. Some photographs were removed from frames for space considerations.

Acquisition Information

The collection was given to the Woodson Research Center in April, 1980 by Mrs. Edwin Allday (neƩ Doris Fondren) on behalf of the Fondren Family.

Related Material

See Walter F. and Ella F. Fondren Papers, MS390, and Ella Cochrum Fondren, Walter W. Fondren and Fondren Library information/vertical files located in Woodson Research Center.


Materials deaccessioned from the main collection include: shovel: "Groundbreaking ceremony, The Methodist Hospital, June 1, 1960. Address - Bishop A. Frank Smith; Presented to Mrs. W.W. Fondren" -- deaccessioned and transferred to Methodist Hospital, Houston, April 18, 2001; architectural renderings of Methodist Hospital, Houston -- deaccessioned and transferred to Methodist Hospital, Houston, July 23, 2001

Guide to the Ella F. Fondren Family Papers, 1880s-1976
Unprocessed Addenda
Lee Pecht
1999, 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas Repository

Fondren Library MS-44, Rice University
6100 Main St.
Houston Texas 77005 USA