Woodson Research Center, Rice University

Guide to the Ella Fondren Family Papers, 1880s-1976 MS 340

creator Fondren family
creator Fondren, Ella F.
Title: Ella Fondren Family papers
Dates: 1880s-1976
Dates (Bulk): bulk
Abstract: 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.
Identification: MS 340
Quantity: 7 Cubic Feet (10 boxes)
Language: English
Repository: Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas

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.

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.


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.


Access Restrictions

This material is open for research.

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.

Index Terms

clippings (information artifacts)
renderings (drawings)
Families -- Texas
Dedication services
Women philanthropists
Education, Higher -- Texas
Fondren Library
Fondren, Ella F.
Methodist Hospital (Houston, Tex.)

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.

Separated Material

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Ella F. Fondren/Fondren Family Collection, MS 340, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University

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.

General note

Excerpted from The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 2, 1996

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series I: Visuals

Scope and Contents note
The series includes photographs of family groups and individuals, a family scrapbook, group photos of family friends, renderings and photos of Houston buildings, including Fondren family homes. Extremely large items have been removed to an upright bin.
Box Folder
1 1 American College of Hospital Administrators
2-3 Methodist Hospital, Houston, TX
4 Scarritt College, Nashville, TN
5 Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX
6 Oil field
7-8 Misc.
9 Walter William Fondren
10 Walter Wm. Fondren with others
11 Ella Cochrum Fondren
12 Ella Fondren at receptions, meetings, etc.
Fondren family groups
Box Folder
1 13 Doris Fondren, Mary Fondren
13 Catherine, Walter Jr., Sue
13 Dossy, Doris, Camille, Elly, WWFIII, WWFJr.
13 Unidentified, WWF, Dossy, Mrs. WWF, Bishop Selecman
13 Mary Doris Fondren, Elly Fondren
13 Bryan, Tom, Camille, Sue, Doris, David, Peter, Walter, Ellanor
13 Doris and brother Smith at a Rice barn dance
13 Susie, Catherine, Mrs. Fondren, WWFJr.
13 WWFJr., Catherine, Sue
13 Sue, Mary Ida Hubbard (daughter of Mrs. WWF's sister, Ida Cochrum Hubbard), Dossy, Camille, Elly, Bryan, Peter, David Elly, Bryan, Peter, David
13 Passport photo for European trip, 1920
13 Mrs. Fondren, Sue, WWFJr., WWF
13 WWF, Sue, WWFJr., Mrs. Fondren
13 WWFJr., Sue
13 Milton, Doris, Walter Jr., Momo, Sue, Catherine, Tex, Peter, Walter III, Dossy, Bryan, Elly, Sue, David
13 Loose, unnumbered
13 Fondren family on porch of Westmoreland St. house
13 family group at SMU Fondren Library dedication
13 Fondren & Underwood grandchildren
14 Walter William Fondren, Jr.
15 Walter William Fondren, III
16 Camille Fondren; (with daughter Doris Ledwidge)
17 Mary Doris Fondren
18 Susie Ella Fondren
19 Mary Catherine Fondren
20 Talton & May Cochrum with son, Steve
20 May Cochrum and mother-in-law, Holly Pogue Cochrum
20 Mrs. Fondren's mother and her sister
20 Grandfather Jack Cochrum, Grandmother Cochrum, Aunt Etta
20 Grandfather Jack Cochrum, Grandmother Cochrum
20 Holly Pogue Cochrum
(3 photos)
20 Aunt Etta Cochrum
20 Noah Cochrum
(2 photos)
20 Noah Cochrum and May and Talton Cochrum
20 Holly Pogue Cochrum
21 Fondren family individual & group photos, mostly unknown
22 Fondren house on Willowick or Knollwood
22 Fondren house on Westmoreland Street
22 Fondren house on Montrose Blvd.
Box photograph
2 1 Thomas Richard Fondren 1844-1896
2 Walter William Fondren [2 copies] 1939
3 Mrs. W.W. Fondren 1939
4 Walter William Fondren, Jr. family
5 Walter Wm. & Ella Fondren grandchildren
6 Bishop Hiram Boaz, Bishop Charles C. Selecman, Bishop John M. Moore, Mrs. WWF, granddaughter [?], 1 unidentified
7 Michael DeBakey sketch, inscribed to Mrs. Fondren
8-10 Walter William Fondren
11-12 2 groups, including WWF [possibly Dallas, TX]
13 Possibly WWF's family from Arkansas
14-16 Dorie Fondren
17-22 Oil Convention in Mexico
23 ? and brother Smith
24 identifiable are Bill Stuart, Doris, brother Smith, WWFJr., Anita Stuart (Mrs. Malcolm Baker)
25 Mrs. Fondren with Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, inscribed c. 1972
26 Mrs. Cochrum, Sue, Walter Fondren Trammell, Mrs. Fondren
27 Collage: WWFJr., Doris, WWFIII, Elly, Dossy
28 Sue, Camille, Dossy, Tom, Peter, David, Walter, Elly, Bryan
29 Catherine Fondren's wedding to Milton Underwood: identifiable are Mrs. J. Horace Luckie, Sue, Catherine, Doris, Mary Trammell (W.B.'s sister), Mary Stanford Campbell, "Dossy" (Mary Doris Fondren)-flower girl
30-32 Ella Cochrum Fondren
33 Walter William Fondren, Jr.
34 Walter Wm. Fondren Jr. with Walter Wm. Fondren III
35 3 individual photos framed on larger backing: Susie Ella Fondren, Walter Fondren Jr., Catherine Fondren Underwood
Photograph album/scrapbook of family
8 Fondren Library, SMU (matted photograph)
Southern Methodist University (2 buildings)
Fondren Science Hall, Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX; rendering
3 unidentified university buildings; renderings
Fondren Hall, Scarritt College, Nashville, TN; matted rendering
Methodist Hospital, Houston, TX; 2 renderings
9 #17 Catherine Fondren Underwood, Milton R. Underwood, WWF Jr., Doris Ledwidge Fondren, Wash Bryan Trammell, Sue Fondren Trammell (photographed in the entrance of the Fondren house on Montrose Blvd.)
#18 Catherine Camille Fondren, Ellanor Ann Fondren, WWF III, Doris Fondren Allday, Robert Edwin Allday (baby), Edwin Allday, Sue Trammell, Peter Underwood, Bryan Trammell, David Underwood, Thomas Stephen Trammell (photographed in the Fondren house on Montrose Blvd., Christmas ) 1950
#1 Catherine Fondren Underwood, Milton R. Underwood, Walter Wm. Fondren Jr., Doris Ledwige Fondren, Wash Bryan Trammell, Sue Fondren Trammell Christmas ca. 1950
#4 David Underwood, Sue Fondren Trammell, Thomas Stephen Trammell, Peter Underwood, Ellanor Ann Fondren, Catherine Camille Fondren, Walter Wm. Fondren III, Mary Doris "Dossie" Fondren, Wash Bryan Trammell Jr. ca. 1947
#5 Ellanor Ann Fondren, Walter Wm. Fondren III, Doris Ledwige Fondren, Catherine Camille Fondren, Walter Wm. Fondren Jr., Mary Doris "Dossie" Fondren
#2 Mary Doris "Dossie" Fondren Allday, Walter Wm. Fondren Jr., Ella Florence Fondren, Edwin Allday ca. 1951
#1 Catherine Fondren Underwood, Milton R. Underwood, Walter Wm. Fondren Jr., Doris Ledwige Fondren, Wash Bryan Trammell, Sue Fondren Trammell Christmas ca. 1950
#6 Doris Ledwige Fondren, Ellanor Ann Fondren, Catherine Camille Fondren, Walter Wm. Fondren Jr., Mary Doris "Dossie" Fondren, Walter Wm. Fondren III [Catherine Camille Fondren in portrait]
Ella Cochrum Fondren- 2 different views ca. 1955
10 Walter William Fondren (oval frame)
Catherine Fondren (oval frame)
Walter Wm.and Ella Fondren (2 large framed color photographs hanging in east entrance of Fondren Library, Rice University)

Series II: Philanthropic - Awards, recognition, memorials, 1939-76

Scope and Contents note
This series includes Mrs. Fondren's certificates, plaques, resolutions, awards, citations, honorary degrees with academic hoods, with programs, newsclippings, commemorative albums related to Rice's Fondren Library dedication, Southern Methodist University, and Methodist Hospital (Houston), among others.
3 A Tribute to Mrs. Walter William Fondren, SMU 2-4-57
Variety Club of Houston Heart Award and Installation Dinner Honoring Mrs. W.W. Fondren 2-11-65
Variety Club of Houston Heart Personality for [plaque removed to oversize Box 7] 1964
Kinkaid School appreciation certificates/photos for Mrs. WWF Fondren Foundation 1958
Resolutions: Mr. & Mrs. W.W. Fondren
Resolutions: Mr. W.W. Fondren
Resolution: Mr. W.W. Fondren from Humble Oil & Refinery, [removed to oversize box 7] 1939
Memorial to WWF from Board of Directors of the National Bank of Commerce of Houston 1-10-39
Correspondence re: tributes and awards
4 Child Guidance Center appreciation on the formal dedication 1961
Institute of Opthamology Distinguished Service Award 1969
Rice University Associates Life Member Award 1964
Council of Churches of Greater Houston Churchman's Award 1957
Assorted citations 1946-62
Southern Methodist University honorary Doctor of Laws 1965
Southern Methodist University Alumni Association Associate Member Award 1950
National Conference of Christians and Jews Testimonial/appreciation 1952
Rotary Club Distinguished Citizen Award, [removed and added to vault, lower upright picture case] 1973
5 Academic hoods for honorary degrees, Mrs. W.W. Fondren
6 Assorted programs
Dedication Proceedings, The Fondren Library, SMU 6-4-40
Misc. newsclips, Methodist Hospital materials
Fondren and Brown Buildings, Methodist Hospital, Houston, TX, progress of construction with photos/information 1965-
Groundbreaking Ceremonies, SMU Health Center 2-4-59
Sister Ella's poem, (plaque) 1976
7 Variety Club of Houston Heart Personality for (plaque for Mrs. WWF) 1964
Good Samaritan Club, Methodist Hospital, membership certificate for Mrs. WWF)
Resolution: WWF from Humble Oil & Refinery 1939
Methodist Hospital commemorative album-Mrs. WWF honored as Life Member of Board of Trustees 1969
Fondren Library, Rice University, dedication program
Rotary Club Distinguished Citizen Award 1973