Louise Bowen

Louise Bowen
Louise Bowen was born in 1859. The widow of a rich businessman, Joseph Bowen, she was a major financial contributor to the Hull House Settlement. This included the money to provide several new buildings and the summer camp, the Bowen Country Club, in memory of her dead husband. Jane Addams estimated that over the years Bowen provided over three quarters of a million dollars to the Hull House project.

Bowen was the leader of the Hull House Women's Club and president of the Juvenile Protective Association, and this stimulated her into carrying out an investigation into the African Americans living in Chicago. The report, The Colored People of Chicago was published in 1913. Bowen was a long-time trustee, treasurer and finally president of the Hull House Association board of trustees. After the death of Jane Addams in 1935 she was the most important figure in the Hull House Settlement. However, her increasingly dogmatic manner led to the resignations of the next head resident that followed Addams, Adena Miller Rich (1935-1937).

Rich was replaced by Charlotte Carr. She was an active trade unionist who held radical political views and this led to clashes with Bowen. In 1943 Carr was fired when she refused to resign from the left-wing Union for Democratic Action. A report in Time Magazine on 11th January, stated: "Hull House's founder, Jane Addams, in the 19th Century spirit believed in the social adjustment and education of the alien poor. Miss Carr thought that times had changed, that organization and political pressure were now the best ways for slum dwellers to better their lot." Bowen developed a better relationship with the next head resident, Russell Ballard.

Louise Bowen died in 1953.

Primary Sources

(1) Louise Bowen, The Colored People of Chicago (1913)

While the morality of every young person is closely bound up with that of his family and his immediate environment, this is especially true of the sons and daughters of colored families who, because they continually find the door of opportunity shut in their faces, are more easily forced back into their early environment, however vicious it may have been.

The enterprising young people in immigrant families who have passed through the public schools and are earning good wages continually succeed in moving their entire households into more prosperous neighborhoods where they gradually lose all trace of their early tenement house experiences. On the contary, the colored young people, however ambitious, find it extremely difficult to move their families or even themselves into desirable parts of the city and to make friends in these surroundings.

Many a case on record in the Juvenile Protective Association tells a tale of an educated young Negro who failed to find employment as stenographer, bookkeeper, or clerk. One rather pathetic story is that of a boy graduated from a technical high school last spring. He was sent with other graduates of his class to a big electric company where in the presence of all his classmates he was told that "******s are not wanted here".

The association has on record another instance where a graduate of a business college was refused a position under similar circumstances. This young man, in response to an advertisement, went to a large firm to ask for a position as clerk. "We take colored help only as laborers," he was told by the manager of a firm supposed to be friendly to the Negroes.

(2) Louise Bowen, letter to a friend about the death of Jane Addams (27th May, 1935)

Miss Jane Addams went to Passavant Hospital on the 18th May. The operation was performed on her that day but it was found that she had an incurable disease. On the 20th she sank into unconsciousness, and she died very quietly on the evening of the 21st.

May 22nd and 23rd Miss Addams lay in state in Bowen Hall at Hull House. She looked very lovely and very natural, and during the twenty-four hours she was there thousands of people passed through the Hall. The Hull House Women's Club formed a guard of honor and stood on either side of the hall, while the older boys and girls in the Clubs with white ribbons tied around their arms acted as ushers and everything was conducted in a most orderly way.

She lay in a casket with a loose light blue robe around her, her hair pushed back from her forehead as she always wore it. On either side of the casket were bright colored tulips, so that it looked as though she was resting on a bed of flowers. The hall was opened at five o'clock in the morning, and working men on their way to their jobs came in with lunch boxes in their hands, many of them kneeling on a little stool in front of the casket and saying a prayer.

The morning of the funeral - and it was a beautiful day - she was taken from Bowen Hall and placed upon the terrace in Hull House Court. This Court is surrounded by the various Hull House buildings. The funeral was at 2.30 in the afternoon. As early as ten o'clock in the morning the Court Yard was crowded with people, one or two thousand standing there all day in order to be present at the services.

When the funeral began, the music for which was furnished by the Hull House Music School, every window in the Court was filled with people, there were flowers in every window and wreaths hanging below the windows, while the terrace was banked with lilacs and apple blossoms with bright colored tulips around the edges. It was a most touching and democratic gathering. Strong men and women with children in their arms all stood weeping for the friend they had lost.

(3) Charlotte Carr gave an interview to Time Magazine after she was forced to resign by Louise Bowen (11th January, 1943)

"Hell, I was fired!" exclaimed Charlotte Carr last week at reports that she had "resigned" after five years as director of Chicago's world-famed slum settlement, Hull House. For many reasons, Charlotte Carr's position at Hull House had become shaky. Some trustees and philanthropists in particular did not like her outspoken political activity, her affiliation with the Union for Democratic Action.

Hull House's founder, Jane Addams, in the 19th Century spirit believed in the social adjustment and education of the alien poor. Miss Carr thought that times had changed, that organization and political pressure were now the best ways for slum dwellers to better their lot.

© John Simkin, April 2013