July 3, 2015 by Jaime Bare
“The Alamo is not ancient history. It is no more ancient than love is an old story, for nothing is ancient and nothing is old which every day teaches something that is fine and beautiful and brave.” –Richard Harding Davis, 1892
The Daughters of the Republic of Texas have been dedicated to the preservation of the heritage of Texans since their inception in 1891. Many of their most visible activities occurred at the Alamo Shrine in San Antonio. In response to Clara Driscoll, Adina de Zavala, and other women who called for the rescue of the neglected and decayed site of the 1836 battle, the Texas legislature made the Daughters of the Republic of Texas the custodians of the Alamo in 1905. Without state assistance (prior to 2011), they operated and improved the Alamo using the proceeds from the gift shop. They transformed the Alamo into a tourist site that introduces Texas history to millions of school children and visitors from around the globe while at the same time supporting preservation efforts of the historic structure.
One hundred and ten years later, their last day as the official caretakers of the historic shrine is July 10, 2015.
Their Alamo legacy, however, will live on.
Sarah Riddle Eagar, the second Shrine Hostess, in the interior of the Alamo Chapel. In the early days, donated documents and paintings hung on the walls and artifacts were displayed in cases. The Shrine Hostess greeted visitors from her desk. Sarah Eagar and Florence Eagar Roberts Alamo Papers, Doc 14408, DRT Library Collection, Alamo Research Center.
Because they needed a representative to be the face of the Alamo to the public, the DRT installed a desk in the chapel for the volunteer Shrine Hostess. She answered questions and explained the history of the battle and the site to visitors. The first hostess was Florence Eagar, who held the post from 1905 until 1907. After she married Major Harris L. Roberts, her mother, Sarah Riddle Eagar, took over the duties of hostess. A citizen of the Republic of Texas herself, Sarah had been the first Anglo American child born in San Antonio.
1906 contract for one of the first Alamo postcards to be sold as a souvenir to support the upkeep of the Alamo. Florence Eagar, the Alamo hostess, was in charge of the contract.
The 1905 legislation required that the DRT operate and preserve the Alamo “without charge to the state.” Prior to 2011, the DRT provided all of the funding used to maintain and operate the Alamo historic site through the proceeds of souvenir sales. In the early years, the Daughters sold small trinkets such as vases and crockery from the Shrine Hostess’ desk. The hostess logged inventory and sales in her ledger. The souvenir shop was moved into the Alamo Sales Museum in 1936.
Interior of the Alamo Sales Museum. [Alamo Museum interior] / Harvey Patteson & Son, 1958. DRT Library Collection, Alamo Research Center, San Antonio, Texas
Leita Applewhite Small, who served as Alamo Hostess, historian, custodian, and business operator for over two decades, represented all that is good about the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Upon her death in 1946, the Alamo Mission Chapter observed that Mrs. Small had left the Alamo “in first class condition more beautiful, more beloved, more expansive in its influence.” Mrs. Edith Halter kept Alamo scrapbooks during
her time as hostess in the 1950s. These scrapbooks are housed in the DRT Library Collection at the Alamo Research Center. Jacqueline Runnels Espy was another long-serving hostess during the 1960s. She greeted a number of famous guests upon their visit to the Alamo, including John F. Kennedy, and often appeared in Renwick Cary’s “Around the Plaza” feature for the San Antonio Light.
John F. Kennedy signs the guest register at the in the Alamo. To his left is his sister Patricia Lawford and to his right the DRT hostess, Jacqueline Runnels Espy. General Image Collection, DRT Library Collection, Alamo Research Center.
The Shrine Hostess continued to be an important figure for the DRT and the Alamo. For eleven decades, these ladies have presented the public face of the history of the Alamo, the Texas Revolution, and the Texas Republic. The last shrine hostess, Anne Burney, retired in March of 2015. As the Mission Chapter put it in their tribute to Leita Small: “May these words…serve as a reminder…to learn the lesson of the Alamo as she learned it- ‘to carry on loyally and unafraid, never surrendering even though she must ask to have the cot lifted across the line.’”