09: The Mattie Allen Story

It isn't that surprising when someone who has fond memories of years spent attending a university--or who has children or other relatives with similar memories--chooses one day to give back to that university out of gratitude.

But the story behind one of the largest gifts ever made to Baylor University shows that even if such familiar ties are absent, there is something about Baylor's mission and legacy strong enough to inspire great affection and support.

Mattie Jones was born in 1887 in Hurst, Texas. The daughter of a farmer, Mattie eventually married J.C. Allen, an employee of the Otis Elevator Co.

The Allens moved to Dallas in the hard economic times of the early 1930s. Before J.C.'s death in 1937, the Allens purchased a 160-acre farm about four miles south of Grapevine. Mattie continued to own the farm, operating it through a tenant farmer while she lived in Dallas and attended the First Baptist Church there.

Though the State of Texas took a small portion of her farm for highway use, Mattie's remaining 147.5 acres continued to grow in value over the decades. When construction began on nearby Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, the farm's value skyrocketed.

The promise of instant riches couldn't budge Mattie. She turned down offers from investors interested in buying the strategically located farm. Mattie insisted she would never sell it during her lifetime. Instead, she vowed to leave a significant part of the money gained through a sale to Baylor University "to help educate boys and girls."

Mattie Allen died at age 96 on Aug. 30, 1983. When Baylor's portion of her land arrived it totaled almost $14 million--the largest single gift in Baylor's history up to that time. The money established The J.C. and Mattie L. Allen Trust, which to this day fulfills Mattie's dream. A plaque honoring her legacy stands outside the west entrance of Pat Neff Hall.

The sheer size of Mattie's gift makes this an important story, but what truly makes it noteworthy is that the widow who gave away a fortune had almost no ties to Baylor. Not only had she never attended Baylor, Mattie Allen had never set foot on campus, and not a single member of her family had attended the University.

Mattie's lone Baylor tie came through her pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas--George W. Truett, a distinguished Baylor graduate and faithful supporter of the University. Through Truett, Mattie Allen was inspired to repeatedly resist great wealth during her lifetime to make sure that future generations had the chance to afford their dream of a college education.