Women’s History Month: Mary Moody Northen’s Legacy

If you’re headed down Broadway St. between 26th and 27th street, you’re sure to notice the Moody Mansion.

Taking up nearly the whole block, the massive, rust colored Victorian-style structure is a staple in Galveston’s East End and so is the legacy of Mary Moody Northen, a well-known financier and philanthropist who grew up between the mansion’s walls. With a reverence for community and giving back, Mary played a huge role in shaping the Galveston we know and love today.

pictured: Mary Moody Northen

Born in February 1892, Mary was the oldest of four siblings. “She was considered the most delicate. She did not go to formal schooling beyond the 7th grade. After that she had a governess and was homeschooled. She was shy,” says Betty Massey, the Executive Director of Mary Moody Northen Endowment. Despite Mary’s more subdued nature, she was smart, observant, and thoughtful. She began embracing the family’s entrepreneurial spirit in her preteens when, with the help of her grandfather Colonel William Lewis Moody, she formed The Great American Chicken Company where she ordered chickens and delivered eggs in the neighborhood.

In her early 20s, Mary married Edwin Clyde Northen and moved into a home a few blocks west of the Moody Mansion. “She was a conventional wife of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, but along the way her father was teaching her about business,” says Massey. Mary’s father, W.L. Moody, Jr., was a savvy businessman who worked in banking, insurance, and hotels just to name a few. The business acumen Mary gained came to use in 1954 when two tragedies shifted her world: the passing of her husband and her father a few weeks later. Suddenly, Mary was in charge of 50 companies. “The greatest monument we can build to my father is to see his organizations prosper,” said Mary after her father’s passing, and she stayed true to that promise.

Mary was the first person to chair the Moody Foundation and under her leadership, she gave funds to help with historic preservation, education, and the arts in Galveston. For example, Galveston landmarks like The Strand Historic District and the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA would not be such a big part of the island without Mary’s financial contributions. “I think she got the big picture of Galveston. When you put the pieces together of what the foundation was funding under Mary’s leadership, it was about bringing together Galveston history. She moved the needle,” says Massey.

Brick and stone exterior of Moody Mansion, a Museum Days participant in Galveston, Texas
Moody Mansion

Mary was all about giving back to the Galveston community and that spirit still remains with the use of the 1895 Moody Mansion, which along with being available for tours is also used for community events like fundraisers. The ground floor of the Moody Mansion is the Galveston Children’s Museum. “Sometimes the sounds of the Children’s Museum come up from the vents, and I think Mrs. Northen would be so happy to see her family home used by her community,” says Massey. So the next time you’re in town, be sure to take a tour of the childhood home that fostered such a giving Galveston community leader.

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