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Texas | Columns | "Hindsights"

Looking back at
The Rise and Fall of
the Texas Club

by Michael Barr
Michael Barr

In 1909 a group of Texas women living in New York, homesick for their native land and tired of rattling around in the penthouse all day, formed the Texas Club. In April the ladies threw the first of many parties to celebrate the victory of the Texas army at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836. The San Jacinto Day celebrations, held in the spring at the swankiest ballrooms in Manhattan, became yearly events and raised thousands for charities and scholarships.

The Texas Club was no ordinary social circle but a group of rich and sophisticated ex-patriots who knew which fork to use. And yet the Texas Club parties never reached the top tier of the Manhattan social scene. New York's social elite could never accept nouveaux-rich westerners, who sometimes confused flamboyance for taste, as equals. As time would show, New York Society's judgement of Texans was accurate, but the Texas club forged ahead giving little thought to snubs from New York's upper class. Texans went their own way as Texans are prone to do.

One of the founders of the Texas Club was Clara Driscoll Sevier. Clara, the daughter of a wealthy Texas family, had just moved to New York from San Antonio where she and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas saved the Alamo. Clara's husband, Hal Sevier, was a newspaperman (founder of the Austin American-Statesman) and diplomat, but Clara, wealthy and cultured, was a social force apart from her husband. She attended finishing school in France and was fluent in four languages. The New York Times, when writing about the Texas Club, identified the other married women by their husband's name. Only Clara Driscoll Sevier was mentioned by her first name and maiden name.

Clara served as president of the Texas Club from 1910 to 1913, and she set the tone for club activities in the early years. On April 21, 1910, the Texas Club held a banquet at the Waldorf Hotel at 5th Avenue and 33rd Street. Exactly one year later Clara organized a cotillion (a French country dance) at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

In 1913 the Texas Club conducted an auction at the Plaza Hotel with proceeds to aid victims of the recent great flood in the eastern United States. The club wanted to show its appreciation to the country for helping Galveston after the hurricane. Tickets to the event sold for $1.25.

The Texas Club held a military and naval ball at the Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom in 1919. The officers of the Battleship Texas were guests of honor.

On April 19, 1941 the club held a tea dance at the spectacular Rainbow Room on the 65th floor at 30 Rockefeller Center. Proceeds from ticket sales went to university scholarships and Greek war relief.

In 1944 Texas Senator W. Lee O'Daniel was the guest of honor at the Texas Club gathering at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 301 Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. "Pappy" attacked FDR's bid for a fourth term as president and accused New Dealers of "smothering taxpayers in public debt." Many New Yorkers thought Pappy was a clodhopper but his message resonated with members of the Texas Club.

On April 24, 1964 the Texas Club held its San Jacinto Day celebration in the Grand Ballroom at Hotel Delmonico at 502 Park Avenue (now Trump Tower). Angus G. Wynne, Jr., developer of Six Flags Over Texas, was the guest of honor.

For 60 years the Texas Club tried to show it belonged in New York Society, but sometime in the 1970s the Texans affirmed what New Yorkers suspected all along; that Texans were, deep down, tacky and uncivilized. The San Jacinto Day celebrations took a western turn and a rowdier tone. By 1975 a genteel and refined event began to look like a Saturday night at Gilley's.

On May 2, 1976, the Texas Club celebrated San Jacinto Day at O'Lunney's Irish Pub near Times Square. The party was loud and colorful. Guests dined on ribs, bar-b-qued chicken, Texas chili, and corn-on-the-cob. The drink of choice was Lone Star Beer in a long neck bottle. After dinner the Texans danced the night away to Delbert McClinton (born in Lubbock, raised in Fort Worth) and his band, The Victims of Life's Circumstances. Guests included Phyllis George - Denton native, television sportscaster, and former Miss America, Chet Flippo - a Fort Worth country music journalist and associate editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, Joe Armstrong - Fort Worth native and publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine, (who insisted the shirt he was wearing once belonged to Roy Rogers), Larry L. King - attended finishing school at Putnam (near Abilene), fluent in West Texan, journalist, and playwright (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), and Morgan Fairchild (born Patsy Ann McClenny) - an actress from Denton then in her third year on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. She moved to Dallas in 1978 and became a star. Another guest, Janet Scudder, formerly of Spur, had just launched a new monthly newspaper called The New York Texan. The Texas Club assessed a $5 surcharge from each guest to help the new publication with printing and mailing costs.

At the party a New York reporter tried to find out why transplanted Texans felt a need to stick together.

"We're clannish people," Larry L. King explained.

"Once Texans get here," Janet Scudder added," they find a need to keep in touch - like any other ethnic group. And there's something about being this far from home and needing to hear another Texas voice."

The Texas Club has kept a low profile for the last 30 years, but it still exists as a non-profit organization in New York.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights"
September 21, 2015 Column

Sources:
New York Times, March 6, 1910, p 3.
New York Times, April 16, 1911, p.5.
New York Times, April 3, 1913, "Texas Club to Return Benefits," p. 9.
New York Times, April 12, 1941, "Texas Group to Celebrate," p.20.
New York Times, April 23, 1944, "O'Daniel Pledges Fight on 4th Term," p. 32.
New York Times, April 24, 1964, "Texas Club is Planning Dinner Dance Tonight," p.30.
New York Times, May 3, 1976, "In New York a Big Party for Texans," p. 38.-


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