Mary Couts Burnett


Written by Rebecca Sharpless
Read by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez

In 1923, Mary Couts Burnett gave more than three million dollars to Texas Christian University, one of the largest gifts to a Texas institution.  A native of Weatherford, Burnett married wealthy cattleman and oil baron Burk Burnett about 1892.  After the death of their only child in 1917, Mary Burnett feared that her husband was trying to kill her.  In response, he had her declared insane and confined to a private house in her hometown.  

On the day that Burk Burnett died, Mary Burnett fled Weatherford and slipped back into Fort Worth.  Her husband had left his entire estate to his granddaughter from his first marriage, but Mary Couts [Cowts] Burnett successfully sued for half of the funds.  She then proceeded to will her portion of the estate to TCU.  The gift came as a surprise to the university, for Burnett was Episcopalian and had no formal ties to the campus.  Burnett never fully revealed her motives, but she was impressed with TCU's religious inclusivity and wanted to help Fort Worth.  

At her request, a portion of the money was used to construct the library that still bears her name, which was dedicated in 1925.  The rest was placed in a trust that ensured TCU's survival during the Great Depression.  When Burnett died in 1924, a hundred female students from TCU attended her memorial service in recognition of a woman who refused to be held down and kept her own counsel about the distribution of her fortune.


Colquitt, Betsy. Prologue: The TCU Library to 1983. Fort Worth: Mary Couts Burnett Library, Texas Christian University, 1983.

Cottrell, Debbie Mauldin, "BURNETT, MARY COUTS," Handbook of Texas Online (

Hall, Colby D. History of Texas Christian University. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1947.

Moore, Jerome A. Texas Christian University: A Hundred Years of History. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1974.

Audio Source Information

Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.