Portrait of Cesar Maurice Lombardi

Portrait of Cesar Maurice Lombardi

Rice had been interested in endowing an educational institute of some kind, having revised his will twice previously to include a school for needy boys, first in New Jersey, then in New York City. Nearing 60 and childless, Rice began to consider a major ongoing project or institution that he could endow with his still-growing fortune.

At the time, there was no higher education in Houston, beyond high schools. The University of Houston was not founded until 1927 and did not become a state institution until 1963.

During his frequent visits to Houston, he had spoken with Cesar Maurice Lombardi, president of Houston Electric Light and Power Co. and president of the Houston School Board, about the matter. Lombardi encouraged Rice to build a municipal high school, but after some thought, William decided to fund an institute of higher learning in Houston.

The charter for the William M. Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art was signed on May 13, 1891, and registered in Austin six days later.

Rice initially established an endowment of $200,000 for the Rice Institute but revised his will in 1896 after the death of his second wife and left the bulk of his estate, totaling $4,631,259.08, to the institute, intending to give the new institution a firm financial foundation.

“Texas received me when I was penniless, without friends or even acquaintances. And now in the evening of my life, I recognize my obligation to her and her children. I wish now to leave to the boys and girls struggling for a place in the sun the fortune I have been able to accumulate.” -William Marsh Rice