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de Zavala, Adina (1861–1955) - Local History

texas alamo san antonio

Adina de Zavala, called the “Angel of the Alamo,” was born on November 18, 1861, at Zavala Point on Buffalo Bayou near San Jacinto battleground in Texas.   Her father was Augustine de Zavala and her mother was Irish-born Julia (Tyrell) de Zavala. Adina was educated by private tutors and could read at age four. When the family relocated to Galveston, she attended the Ursuline Academy, then Sam Houston Normal Institute in Huntsville (now Sam Houston Academy). By 1879 she had obtained a teaching certificate and went to Chillicothe, Missouri, to study music. She then returned to Texas to teach, and, in 1889 was one of the founding members of the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association. De Zavala began efforts to obtain commercial property which adjoined the Alamo and to retain the original Spanish names for streets in the downtown San Antonio area. She lobbied for the public schools in the Alamo City area to be named for Texas heroes and for schoolrooms to display Texas flags. She also lobbied to have March 6 set aside as “Texas Heroes Day.” She located the burial place of Ben Milam, shot by Mexicans as he led the attack into San Antonio during the siege of Bexar, and had a gray granite memorial erected to mark Milam Square. In 1892 the Daughters of the Republic of Texas established a de Zavala chapter.

In 1903 de Zavala found that out-of-state developers intended to purchase the Alamo property when her option expired. She worked tirelessly to raise the $75,000 needed to purchase the land. In the end, a friend, Clara Driscoll, purchased the property. In 1905 de Zavala encouraged legislators to pass a bill to fund the Alamo purchase. The bill passed, and the site was to be administered by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Unfortunately, groups began fighting among themselves, de Zavala’s teaching suffered, and she resigned in January 1907. In February, more commercial development threatened, and de Zavala went on a hunger strike inside the building. It was agreed that title to the Alamo property would pass to the state and that the building would be under its jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, de Zavala was intent on writing the history of the Alamo. In 1911 she wrote Story of the Siege and Fall of the Alamo: A Resume , followed by History of the Alamo and Other Missions in San Antonio (1917). She also sponsored work done by the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association and the San Antonio Conservation Society. In 1919 de Zavala located the site of the first Spanish mission in Texas and had markers placed there. She also secured an option on the historical Spanish Governor’s Palace on San Antonio’s Military Plaza, the only remaining example of an aristocratic Spanish residence in the state. In 1929 the city acquired the property, and the San Antonio Conservation Society restored it. In the next few years, Adina de Zavala saved the eighteenth-century home of Francisco Ruiz, one of the original signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and worked to save the home of Jose Antonio Navarro; it was restored after her death, which occurred on March 1, 1955, the eve of Texas Independence Day. On the way to the family burial plot in St. Mary’s Cemetery, her casket, draped with the Texas flag, passed by the Alamo.

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