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Something about Mary
who was Mary Couts Burnett?
By Nancy Bartosek
call came early on Dec. 2, 1923. One Mary Couts Burnett of Summit Avenue
requested a 9 a.m. conference with TCU President E.M. Waits. He, of course,
had no premonition of what was to transpire.
tells us that Waits was greeted by Mrs. Burnett, her lawyer and Van Zandt
Jarvis, president of the TCU trustees, and that the details of gifting
Burnett's $3 million estate to TCU were spelled out.
dean of the college then, described the president's reaction:
steps are attested by the author as an eye witness. The good President
returned to his office, called in the Dean from next door, and carefully
closed the door, so carefully that he almost seemed to have locked it.
Then he began a dance. Yes, really a dance, a solo dance! Now the reverend
President was not designed, either by experience or anatomy, for dancing,
and the tight little office he then occupied (later the Modern Language
office) gave entirely too modest a space for an exhibition, cramped as
it was by furniture and bookcases.
he did, first on one leg and then on the other, for what seemed a quarter
of an hour, although the one witness is willing to admit it might have
been shorter. It certainly was not very artistic prancing, but it was
expressive of some pent-up emotion of a pleasant nature. After the terpsichorean
outlet of emotion had worked sufficiently, the words began to flow, giving
the Dean the story of the interview of the morning. It looked like three
million dollars of endowment for T.C.U.; at that time it might as well
have been ten millions."
the question has hovered: Who was Mary Couts Burnett, and why TCU?
reads a bit like a dime-store novel.
privilege in 1856, Mary Couts was one of five daughters of Col. James
Robertson Couts, a prominent banker and rancher in Parker County. James
Couts was an admirer of Addison Clark. During Mary's early years, he was
known to have helped Clark's fledgling school during its Thorp Spring
period. It's probable young Mary knew of this connection, but not likely
that it was a strong influence on her later decision.
husband, S. Burk Burnett, surely played a part. According to Hall, Mary,
who was Burnett's second wife, didn't fit well in the home of the rough
and ready rancher and oilman. When she began to express fears that he
was trying to kill her, Burnett had Mary judged insane, then confined
to a house in Weatherford.
died in 1922. On the day of his funeral, Mary escaped from Weatherford,
and when relatives returned from the cemetery, they found her in charge
of her former home. And there she stayed.
the advice of her personal physician and trusted adviser Dr. Charles H.
Harris, Mary freed herself from the insanity charges and then successfully
sued for her "widow's part" of the estate that Burnett had willed entirely
to his granddaughter from his first marriage.
say Harris was the strongest influence in Mary's decision. Harris, who
would later found Harris Hospital and whose Harris College of Nursing
joined TCU in 1942, admitted in his later years that he had strongly encouraged
her to choose TCU and to arrange the bequest before her death.
been said that Burnett swore his money would never go to a school or a
church, which may have helped the cause for TCU.
As a condition
of the gift, $150,000 was to be set aside for a building to be named for
Mary. Construction on the Mary Couts Burnett Library began immediately.
shortly before the December 1924 opening but reportedly did see her nearly
finished namesake before her death.