Names and Places of UTSA: George W. Brackenridge
This month we continue “Names and Places of UTSA,” a blog series on university history, with a post by archives student assistant, Kira Sandoval.
On the south side of UTSA’s Main Campus, George Brackenridge Avenue connects Ximenes Avenue to the Child Development Center, University Oaks, and several parking lots. The street is named in honor of an important historical figure of San Antonio and UTSA’s history, George W. Brackenridge. He was a busy philanthropist and businessman who largely influenced the central Texas region. Though he lived and died before UTSA came into existence, he played an important role in shaping Texas education. Brackenridge Avenue was named after this figure because of his service as a San Antonian on the UT System Board of Regents for over 27 years. However, his legacy as a Texan has contributed much more to UTSA and the city of San Antonio than just his membership on the board.
San Antonians have been enjoying George W. Brackenridge’s generosity for over one hundred years. People might already be familiar with his name from leisurely time spent at Brackenridge Park. He donated his land for the park in 1899. He also donated Mahncke and Funston Park to the City of San Antonio.
George W. Brackenridge was born in Indiana on January 14, 1832. He attended Hanover College, Indiana University, and Harvard University. He moved to Texas with his parents in 1853 where he spent the majority of his life, except for a three year period when he was forced to leave Texas after claiming Union sympathies and escaping a close call with a lynching party. During this time, he was appointed by Abraham Lincoln, a close friend of his father’s, to work for the US Treasury Department. He briefly worked in Washington and then in New Orleans under Union forces. Guests to his home in San Antonio and friendships included U.S. General Grant and Mexican Presidents Porfírio Díaz and Francisco Madero. He died on December 28, 1920, and was buried as a 32nd degree Mason in the Brackenridge family’s cemetery near Edna in Jackson County.
George W. Brackenridge had an impressive résumé and had his hand in many pots. During his time in the war, he began amassing his fortune by smuggling cotton across Confederate lines for sale in the North, taking advantage of the law of supply and demand. The Confederacy had cut off the export of cotton in hopes to gain alliances with England and France, in exchange for their imports of the crop. This wartime endeavor led to the formation of the cotton firm Brackenridge, Bates and Company, which he organized with family and friends. With this business experience under his belt, in 1866 he returned from New Orleans to organize the San Antonio National Bank, for which he served a long 46 years as president. From 1883 to 1906, he was appointed president of the San Antonio Water Works company. Additionally, he served as president of the San Antonio Loan and Trust Company, director of the San Antonio Express Publishing Company, president of the San Antonio School Board, and president of the San Antonio Gas Light Company.
Another important figure and contributor to the historical importance of the Brackenridge family name was one of George’s sisters, Mary Eleanor Brackenridge. Mary Eleanor was a strong advocate and pioneer for women’s rights in Texas and the United States. She was one of the first women in the country to serve as a bank director. She founded the Woman’s Club of San Antonio and published a pamphlet in 1911, “The Legal Status of Texas Women,” which led to her involvement with San Antonio’s suffrage movement. She was the first woman to register to vote in Bexar County in 1918. Mary Eleanor also had a hand in establishing the College of Industrial Arts (now known as Texas Woman’s University) in Denton where she became one of the first females to sit on a board of regents in Texas.
Brackenridge’s own educational experience enlightened him to the importance of higher education. He believed that the “greatest way to assist a man was to enable him to help himself” and rise above ignorance through education. Many of his donations were given to educational facilities and universities. He donated large sums to educational institutions in San Antonio, to the Guadalupe College for African Americans in Seguin, the University of Texas, and the University Hall for women medical students at Galveston.
Brackenridge had a particular interest in funding African American and women’s education in the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite the fact that his father owned slaves, George believed that slavery was wrong. After emancipation he “calculated the value of the labor of the family slaves during their servitude, and determined to spend that amount of money on the race.” He spent over $65,000 on African American education in Texas, as well as donating land and buildings for the Prairie View Normal School for Negroes. He allocated an additional $50,000 to the school after his death. Perhaps due to his sister’s activism with women’s rights, George Brackenridge also took an interest in funding women’s education. He funded women’s halls at universities, including the College of Industrial Arts for which Mary Eleanor was a regent, and supported the employment of women instructors in the UT university system.
Brackenridge was estimated to have donated over 2 million dollars in his lifetime to educational purposes, but the exact amount is unknown as he often favored making anonymous donations to avoid public praise. The majority of his fortune after his death went towards the George W. Brackenridge Foundation for education, which still exists today. The Foundation continues to support education in honor of Brackenridge’s values at UTSA and in the San Antonio area. In fact, thanks to an endowment from the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, the Department of Philosophy and Classics at UTSA organized the Brackenridge Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series to bring guests to the university to speak to undergraduates on topics in multiple disciplines.
George W. Brackenridge’s philanthropic pursuits were the crux of his ambitions in life. He wished to provide funding and opportunities for underprivileged students in order to better their education and pursue a career of their choice outside of the limits of poverty. His incredible involvement in Texas’ educational institutions and San Antonio’s history make him an appropriate name to proudly represent on campus.
Belasco, Jessica. “Brackenridge Worked for Women’s Rights.” San Antonio Express-News, March, 18, 2015.
Handbook of Texas Online, A. Elizabeth Taylor, “Brackenridge, Mary Eleanor,” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbr04.
Handbook of Texas Online, “Brackenridge, George Washington,” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbr02
Holland, Richard. The Texas book: profiles, history, and reminiscences of the university. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. (pp. 86-87)
Morgan , Bobbie Whitten. George W. Brackenridge and His Control of San Antonio’s Water Supply, 1869-1905. Master’s thesis, Trinity, 1961. (http://www.edwardsaquifer.net/pdf/Morgan_1961.pdf)
“Roadrunner Focus.” The Roadrunner, February 19, 1977, 5th ed., 6 sec. http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15125coll7/id/218/rec/6.
San Antonio Express-News, “Brackenridge worked for women’s rights,” http://www.expressnews.com/150years/people/article/Brackenridge-worked-for-women-s-rights-6132717.php
The University of Texas at San Antonio, College of Liberal and Fine Arts, Department of Philosophy and Classics, “Brackenridge Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series,” http://colfa.utsa.edu/philosophy-classics/brackenridge
The University of Texas System, “George Washington Brackenridge,” https://www.utsystem.edu/board-of-regents/former-regents/george-washington-brackenridge