Wednesday, August 26, 2020


By Caroline Clemmons

No matter where we live, most of us admire strong women whose accomplishments shaped history. Since I live in Texas, many of the women I admire were or are Texans. One of these is preservationist Adina Emilia De Zavala.

Adina was the eldest of six children born to of Julia (Tyrell) and Augustine De Zavala on November 28, 1861. She was the granddaughter of Lorenzo De Zavala, first Vice President of the Republic of Texas. The family lived at Galveston before moving to a ranch near San Antonio about 1873. Adina attended Ursuline Academy at Galveston from 1871 to 1873, was enrolled at Sam Houston Normal Institute at Huntsville in 1879, from which she graduated in 1881, and later attended a school of music in Missouri. She taught school at Terrell from 1884 to 1886 and later in San Antonio.

Adina Emilia De Zavala

About 1889 she and other San Antonio women met to discuss Texas and its heroes. This group became one of the first societies composed of women organized for patriotic purposes in the state. In 1893 members of this society became affiliated with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. One of Miss Zavala's greatest contributions to Texas was the preservation of a portion of the old San Antonio de Valero Mission, better known as the Alamo.

The state had purchased the chapel of the Alamo from the Catholic Church in 1883, but in 1886 Hugo and Schmeltzer Company, a wholesale grocery firm, bought the Alamo mission convent, also known as the monastery, long barracks, or fortress. The long barracks was the scene of the major resistance by Alamo defenders against the Mexican forces headed by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in 1836. As early as 1892, before her historical group affiliated with the DRT, Adina De Zavala extracted a verbal promise from the grocery firm to give her chapter first chance at buying the property.

A grocery wholesaler was interested in a portion of the Alamo grounds and Adina De Zavala was determined to keep it from falling into corporate hands. In a last ditch effort, Adina attempted to meet with the proprietors of the Menger Hotel in downtown San Antonio. They were out of town, but the hotel personnel informed her that Miss Clara Driscoll was a guest at the hotel. Clara Driscoll was a dedicated preservationist and took an interest in Adina’s crusade. Clara Driscoll used her personal money to purchase the Alamo. Both ladies worked tirelessly to preserve historical sites around the state, but are remembered most for their role of saving the Alamo. Although it is Clara Driscoll who retains the title “Savior of the Alamo,” it was the work of both she and Adina De Zavala that kept the Alamo from being razed.

Scene of Alamo showing chapel and the long barracks

The Texas legislature authorized state purchase of the property from Miss Driscoll in January 1905 and gave custody of the Alamo to the DRT, but soon the women began to disagree upon procedures for preservation of the Alamo and upon exactly what constituted the Alamo at the time of its siege and fall in 1836. The women split into two factions, one led by Adina De Zavala and the other by Clara Driscoll, and fought for control of the state organization of the DRT and the Alamo. Certain legal aspects of the battle were settled by state courts, which in a series of decisions ruled in favor of the Driscoll group as the de jure DRT in 1909.

Clara Driscoll and others in the DRT expressed desires to destroy the dilapidated Hugo and Schmeltzer building in the mistaken belief that it was erected after the 1836 battle. Adina De Zavala led the opposition in a resolute and voluble stand against any such move and was instrumental in the preservation of portions of the original wall of the convent. She barricaded herself inside the north barrack of the Alamo for three days without food or water in February 1908 to protest its destruction. She believed that this section of the mission had more historical value than the Alamo chapel. She and the DRT renewed the feud over historical questions revolving around the Alamo at intervals, and time has proved that Adina De Zavala was correct in most of her historical contentions concerning the mission.

In 1912 she organized the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association, which placed thirty-eight markers at historic sites in Texas. She probably did more than any other one person in stirring interest in the preservation of the Spanish Governor’s Palace in San Antonio, which was finally purchased in 1928 by the city and restored. In the 1930s she helped establish the location near Crockett of sites of the first two missions established in Texas by the Spanish.

In 1923 Governor Pat Neff appointed her to the Texas Historical Board, and she was one of the original members of the Committee of One Hundred appointed to plan for a state centennial. She also served on the advisory board of the Texas Centennial Committee. She was a charter member of the Texas State Historical Association and a member of the executive council of that body beginning in 1919. In 1945 she was elected an honorary life fellow of the association.

Adina De Zavala was a member of many organizations. She was the author of a book, History and Legends of the Alamo and Other Missions in and Around San Antonio in 1917. She wrote pamphlets, including The Story of the Siege and Fall of the Alamo: A Résumé in 1911 and was a contributor to the Handbook of Texas in 1952.

Adina De Zavala made certain we would "Remember the Alamo". She died on March 1, 1955, and was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in San Antonio.


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