Suffragist of the Month – February 2020

Louise deKoven Bowen, 1859 – 1953

Louise deKoven was born in Chicago, February 26, 1859 the only child of Helen Hadduck and John DeKoven. Her childhood was one of wealth and privilege; she graduated from the prestigious Dearborn Seminary in 1916, and began teaching Sunday School at St. James Episcopal Church. Although she remained a member of the church for the rest of her life she consistently expressed discontent about its treatment of women. In 1886 she married Joseph Tilton Bowen; the couple had four children.

In 1903 she began working with Jane Addams in Hull House, advocating for the welfare of young people, and established a summer camp for needy children. She served as the first president of the Juvenile Protective Association where she supervised research examining such issues as working conditions, racial prejudice, and popular entertainment and its effects on young people, issues that still resonate today. 

Louise deKoven Bowen became interested in the woman suffrage movement after learning about the activities of British suffragettes; she admired their tenacity and joined forces with Jane Addams, travelling and speaking out about the need of women for the vote. After her husband died in 1911 she divided her time as a Board member for Hull House, and an advocate for woman suffrage.

She geared her appeal to most women’s concerns for home and family. The vote would improve lives, she argued, by allowing women to vote for their family’s best interests – the prevention of child abuse, the education of young people, and the reduction of infant mortality. She campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt for President in 1912 after learning that he had made woman suffrage part of the Progressive party platform. During World War I, Illinois Governor Frank Lowden appointed Bowen to the Illinois Council of Defense, the only woman to serve on the council.

In 1914 she ran for Alderman of the 21st Ward in Chicago, the first year women were eligible to run, and although she was defeated she was so respected in the City that there was talk of running her for mayor, an idea which greatly amused her. After women won the vote she continued to campaign to encourage women to use their vote to improve lives.

As many wealthy women of the time, Louise DeKoven Bowen could have indulged in a life of indolence and pleasure. Instead she chose to use her wealth and influence to work to better the lives of children and families.

Happy Birthday, Louise deKoven Bowen!

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