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Names and Places of UTSA: Mary E. McKinney

February 22, 2016

This month we continue “Names and Places of UTSA,” a blog series on university history, with a post by archives student assistant, Marissa Del Toro.

One of the central hubs of the university, the McKinney Humanities building sees hundreds of students, staff, and faculty pass through its halls on a daily basis. Posters line the walls, students wait around for their next class to begin, and organizations set out tables to recruit new members. While the name McKinney may not be easily recognizable to many, the person behind the eponym is a kindred soul who understood the value of education.

Humanities Building interior photograph

Humanities Building interior photograph, 1981, UA 16.01.01, Office of University Communications Photographs.

The McKinney Humanities building was named after Mary E. McKinney (1930-2009), a San Antonio native, who was born and raised on the Southside. Her father and mother, a Southern Pacific railroad engineer and a homemaker, never had the opportunity to attend college, but they made it a priority for their daughter. She attended Trinity University, earned her bachelor’s degree in 1950, and later earned her master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin. She became a teacher, serving the public and private schools in San Antonio for 25 years, retiring from St. Margaret Mary Catholic School on the Southeast Side.

McKinney continued her education by taking additional classes at UTSA. According to Lydia Lum, McKinney enrolled in postgraduate courses from 1992 to 1996, taking classes ranging from Latin and philosophy to ancient history and Dante. It was during this time that McKinney learned about the student struggle to cover rising tuition costs. While standing in line for registration, she overheard a student conversation about the need for two or more jobs to afford tuition. Resolute with this revelation, McKinney went to the development office and insisted on starting a scholarship fund to assist low-income students. Known as the Felix and Elizabeth McKinney Memorial Scholarship Fund, it is named in honor of her parents.

Elizabeth (Dee) Carnes McKinney (mother, left) and Mary E. McKinney (right). Photo source: UTSA Today.

Ms. McKinney’s generosity towards UTSA continued even beyond her death in 2009. McKinney’s will revealed that she bequeathed the remainder of her estate—which included $22 million of personal property, stocks, and bonds—to UTSA. Part of this donation, valued at $13 million, comes from three South Texas ranches in Atascosa and Frio counties on the Eagle Ford Shale. McKinney inherited most of this land from her parents, including part of her mother’s family inheritance and an investment made by her father when land was still $10 an acre. This donation ensures that the Felix and Elizabeth McKinney Memorial Scholarship Fund will continue as a full-ride scholarship for low-income new students, as well as smaller scholarships for upper-division students.

McKinney was an advocate of education, who also donated personal items to UTSA. Our Rare Books collection includes her cache of titles on Texas and San Antonio history. These volumes range from Fabulous San Antonio to After Half Moon: A History of Shiner, Texas, 1887-1975. Evident from her personal book collection and tremendous support of UTSA, McKinney was proud to be a Texan and San Antonian. Dr. Romo once described McKinney as “an outstanding, humble Texan who did not care for fame or recognition.” He also noted that through her donation she would “help generations of UTSA students achieve their education goals.”


Inside the Humanities Business building, 1975, MS 27, Gil Barrera Photographs of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

UTSA honored the memory and legacy of McKinney by renaming the former Humanities Social Science building in 2011. The McKinney Humanities building, also known as the MH building, is one of the seven original buildings and was also the first building to open at the main campus. When the building opened in 1975 it was known as the Humanities Business building, housing the offices of the faculty and staff for the humanities and business programs as well as nine lecture halls and 51 classrooms. According to the May 1975 UTSA Bulletin, the building—designed by campus architects Ford, Powell & Carson and Bartlett Cocke & Association—was made to convey a feeling of “simplicity and flexibility” but with a “sense of style.”

<i>Building Accepted</i>, article from May 1975 issue of the UTSA Bulletin, UA 1.02, UTSA University Publications Collection.

Building Accepted, article from May 1975 issue of the UTSA Bulletin, UA 1.02, UTSA University Publications Collection.

The building is a massive four story enclave, which is now home to the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, including offices for 23 of COLFA’s undergraduate degree programs and its 13 graduate degrees, along with the Veterans Certification Office. There are numerous niches, interior patios, and skylight roofs that create an ideal atmosphere for students studying but also for social gatherings. On any given day, a stroll through MH reveals numerous scenes of students frantically studying outside of their classroom, organizations fundraising for their next big event, and professors gliding towards their offices in anticipation of the line of students waiting to discuss their grade. Filled with students, staff, and faculty who are encouraged to pursue and lead an education with integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration, and innovation, this is the best environment to honor the legacy of Mary E. McKinney. So the next time you walk (or run) to your class in the McKinney building, give a little smile to the woman who helped UTSA.

Galeria of Humanities-Business Building

First Day of Classes at UTSA Campus, Galeria of Humanities-Business Building (late registration is going on), September 2, 1975, MS 27, Gil Barrera Photographs of the University of Texas at San Antonio.


Lorna Stafford, “HSS Building renamed McKinney Humanities Building in honor of benefactor,” UTSA Today (, accessed January 31, 2015. Originally published by UTSA Today on February 9, 2011.

Lydia Lum, “Former Texas Public School Teacher Leaves Millions to UT-San Antonio,” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (, accessed January 31, 2015. Originally published by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education on October 8, 2010.

Greta Kaul, “UTSA capital campaign wraps up with a cool $180 million,” San Antonio Express-News (, accessed January 31, 2015. Originally published by San Antonio Express-News on October 5, 2015.

Maria Di Mento, “No. 41 (tied): Mary E. McKinney,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy (, accessed January 31, 2015. Originally published by San Antonio Express-News on February 06, 2011.

Christi Fish, “Mary E. McKinney bequeaths $22 million estate for UTSA student scholarships,” UTSA Today (, accessed January 31, 2015. Originally published by UTSA Today on October 6, 2010.

Melissa Ludwig, “Ex-teacher gives $22 million to UTSA,” mySA (, accessed January 31, 2015. Originally published by mySA on October 5, 2010.

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