Texas Women's History Month: TCU's $3 Million Donor

Mar 25, 2017

Mary Couts Burnett's $3 million donation was the key to keeping Texas Christian University afloat during the Great Depression.

 In 1923, Mary Couts Burnett gave more than $3 million to Texas Christian University, one of the largest gifts to a Texas institution.  A native of Weatherford, Burnett married wealthy cattleman and oil baron Burk Burnett about 1892. After the death of their only child in 1917, Mary Burnett feared that her husband was trying to kill her. In response, he had her declared insane and confined to a private house in her hometown.  

On the day that Burk Burnett died, Mary Burnett fled Weatherford and slipped back into Fort Worth. Her husband had left his entire estate to his granddaughter from his first marriage, but Burnett successfully sued for half of the funds. She then proceeded to will her portion of the estate to TCU. The gift came as a surprise to the university, for Burnett was Episcopalian and had no formal ties to the campus.

Burnett never fully revealed her motives, but she was impressed with TCU's religious inclusivity and wanted to help Fort Worth.  

At her request, a portion of the money was used to construct the library that still bears her name. The rest was placed in a trust that ensured TCU's survival during the Great Depression.  When Burnett died in 1924, 100 female students from TCU attended her memorial service in recognition of a woman who refused to be held down.

This month, KUT is partnering with the Ruthe Winegarten Foundation to celebrate Women's History Month. Every day, we'll bring you a short feature spotlighting a historic woman, movement, or group of women in Texas.