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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
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Mary Elizabeth Moody Northen, a woman of immense strength, determination, and philanthropy, was born in Galveston in 1892 to one of the most prominent families in the region. The Moody name continues to hold weight around the island today. Growing up in a life of privilege around her family full of successful businessmen, Mary was expected to excel academically and was schooled by a private tutor. Mary married Edwin Clyde (Mike) Northen in 1915. They had no children, which allowed Mary to carry the torch of her parent's financial empire.
With an entrepreneurial spirit that was truly exceptional, Mary's first foray into the business world was with the Great American Chicken Company, a business that had been established by her grandfather when she was a child. Mary and her father would discuss business as often as possible, often over dinner.
Mary's business interests expanded, and she began serving on various boards of directors of the Moody interests in 1942. At 62, she was appointed President of the American National Insurance Company, Moody National Bank, the News Publishing Company, the Commonwealth Life and Accident Insurance Company of St. Louis, American Printing Company, and her father's namesake company, W.L. Moody and Company.
Mary was not content with just being at the helm of a few companies; Mary chaired approximately 50 organizations, including the Moody Foundation, the W.L. Moody Cotton Company, the Southern Trading Company, the National Hotel Company, and nearly 40 hotels owned by Affiliated National Hotels, spanning properties in Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Her list of accomplishments and business interests is genuinely awe-inspiring.
Mary's legacy, even today, serves as an inspiration to many. Though a powerful and influential businesswoman, she was known to be shy and quiet and preferred to stay out of the limelight. Her life was characterized by extraordinary accomplishments and a commitment to preserving history. In 1964, Mary established the Mary Moody Northen Endowment, a private charitable foundation to restore her childhood home and maintain the Mountain Lake Hotel, where the film "Dirty Dancing" was filmed. She also funded the restoration of many historic structures in Galveston, including the Santa Fe Railroad depot and the 1877 Tallship Elissa.
Throughout her life, Mary faced one of the most significant tribulations in Galveston history, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which claimed the lives of thousands of Galvestonians. Miraculously, Mary and her family managed to escape the disaster unscathed. Despite this, Mary never forgot the tragedy and dedicated much of her philanthropy to restoring and preserving the city's history. Today, her endowment has grown into a $1.2 billion charitable organization that awards grants to civic and environmental causes in Texas.
Mary passed away in August of 1986, and her life and legacy is a testament to the power of determination and hard work. Despite preferring to stay out of the limelight, her life and accomplishments still inspire others, and her contribution to preserving history is an essential part of Galveston's legacy.