Ruth Young McGonigle

Ruth Young McGonigle was born on April 5th, 1902 in Spindletop, Texas. After graduating from Houston High School in 1918, she entered the Rice Institute to take art classes, but ended up studying architecture instead.

In 1924, McGonigle was the first woman to graduate from Rice with a B.S. in Architecture. After graduation, she worked for William Ward Watkin, who was not only a Houston architect, but also a professor at Rice. McGonigle worked under his tutelage until she married former classmate, George McGonigle Jr., on September 29, 1925. She then settled in her husband’s hometown of Brownsville and began her own practice.

McGonigle was particularly known for recognizing Brownsville’s unique historical architecture and incorporating that style in her own work. Her sensitivity to19th century Creole building tradition is evident in her designs for the Brown-Young house and Hert house in Rio Viejo. Although she designed mainly single-family homes, her artistry could also be found in public buildings like the St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission and the Brownsville Art League Museum. During the 1950’s, she also designed floats for Brownsville’s annual Charro Days parades. Ruth was not only one of the first female architects to work in the lower Rio Grande Valley, but also one of the founders of the Brownsville Art League. Throughout the last decades of her life, McGonigle worked with the Brownsville Historical Association to document the city’s architectural heritage.

She and her husband had two children. Her husband was killed in a plane accident on July 2, 1954. Ruth Y. McGonigle died on April 14, 1984.

Bibliography:; Ruth Young McGonigle Papers, Woodson Research Center, Rice University


Brownsville's original Art League building designed by Ruth Young McGonigle

Brownsville’s original Art League building designed by Ruth Young McGonigle

In 1935, in the midst of the great depression, a group of eight women from Brownsville began meeting together in each other homes to discuss their passion for art. Those early meetings would lead to the formation of the Brownsville Art League, comprised of men, women, students, and young children from Brownsville, Matamoros, and the surrounding communities. It is said that the founders and the early members of the Brownsville Art League were known to meet in all types of sundry places, including backyards, churches, and even the old morgue at Fort Brown.

In the late 1960′s, the Brownsville Art league commissioned one of their own members, a young architect by the name of Ruth Young McGonigle, to design a 4,000 square foot “fire-proof, air-conditioned studio to house permanent art collections”, McGonigle designed a single-story rectilinear building constructed almost entirely of concrete. However, due to budget and security concerns, all but a few windows were eliminated from the architectural program. After completion, this building served as the new home of Brownsville Art League.

In 2002, the Brownsville Art League changed its name to the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art and began focusing its efforts toward the development of a new museum facility that would be better suited for public exhibitions of art. Today, thanks to the efforts and contributions by of hundreds supporters, the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art has completed construction of a beautiful, 17,000 square foot museum. This facility, which is located in the heart of the Mitte Cultural District of Downtown Brownsville, provides a space in which all those who walk through it can learn and be inspired by the creative forces of the human imagination.


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