Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Louise De Koven Bowen, 1859-1953

By Mary Osborne, museum specialist, The Stewart House, Monmouth, Illinois

Vice-President, Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, Director, Woman's Club of Chicago, Treasurer and President of the Board of Directors, Hull House, President, Juvenile Protection Association, Auditor, NAWSA

Born on February 26, 1859, to John and Helen De Koven, Louise De Koven became one of Chicago's leading philanthropists and civic workers. She concentrated her efforts on reforming the juvenile and domestic relations court systems for many years and did not actively involve herself in woman suffrage until she read of the British suffragettes. Impressed by their tenacity, she announced that she had joined the cause during a speech she delivered at Bowen Hall in 1910 or 1911. Bowen's husband, Joseph, died in 1911, leaving her to pursue the suffrage circuit. Bowen's work at Hull House, where she often spoke before its Woman's Club, prepared her to enter the suffrage campaign.

During the 1910s, she traveled with Jane Addams to attend suffrage conventions and addressed numerous groups. Bowen also served as NAWSA's auditor for two years. In 1912, she appeared before the Republican Convention in Springfield and later the Resolutions Committee of the Republican National Convention to urge the politicians to add woman suffrage to the party's platform. When Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party endorsed the measure, she campaigned for him.

Bowen became well known for speaking on women in the domestic sphere. In February 1913, she delivered “The Home Woman's Need and Power” before a suffrage meeting at Carnegie Hall. She directed her remarks toward anti-suffragists and linked suffrage to the eradication of juvenile delinquency and the prevention of child abuse. In other addresses, Bowen argued that women were taxed without representation and dismissed the notion of women's inferiority. She maintained that women had demonstrated themselves to be responsible citizens because of their civic work.

When women gained limited franchise in Illinois in 1913, Bowen continued her efforts to persuade women to use the vote to pass legislation to reduce infant mortality and to promote public health reform. In June 1916, she introduced the Woman's Municipal Platform at a mass meeting of women voters in Chicago's Coliseum. As the Republican National Convention was taking place, she led a march of 5,000 women bearing placards demanding the vote.

During World War I, Illinois Governor Frank Lowden appointed Bowen to the Illinois Council of Defense. She was the only woman to serve on the council. She coordinated women's organizations to mobilize them for the war effort. After the passage of the 19th Amendment, she rallied women to register to vote, to educate themselves, and to use their power for social reform. Louise Bowen died in Chicago on November 9, 1953, at the age of 94.


“United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 12 April 2016), Louisa Dekoven in household of John Dekoven, Illinois, United States; citing p. 330, family 2563, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 545,698.

“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 February 2018), Louise De K Bowen in household of Joseph F Bowen, Precinct 1 Chicago city Ward 22, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 660, sheet 6A, family 84, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,271.

“United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 February 2018), Louise Bowen, Ward 43, Chicago, Chicago City, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 103-2746, sheet 1B, line 62, family 8, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 1008.

“Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994,” database, FamilySearch ( : 17 May 2016), Louise De Koven Bowen, 09 Nov 1953; citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, source reference , record number , Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm.

Bowen, Louise De Koven. Safeguards for City Youth at Work and at Play. New York: MacMillan Company, 1914.

---. Growing Up With a City. New York: MacMillan Company, 1926.

---. Speeches, Addresses, and Letters Reflecting Social Movements in Chicago. Ann Arbor, MI: Edward Brothers, 1937.

“Biography of Louise deKoven Bowen.” Louise deKoven Bowen papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Forty-fifth Annual Report of the National American Woman Suffrage Association given at the Convention, held at Washington, D.C., November 29 to Dec. 5, inclusive, 1913.

“Suffragist News Notes,” Daily Tribune, Terre Haute, 27 September 1914, 16.

Alter, Sharon Z. “Louise deKoven Bowen.” Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Prelinger, Catherine M., ed. Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality, and Commitment in an American Mainline Denomination. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Sawyers, June Skinner. "Louise DeKoven Bowen" in Chicago Portraits: New Edition. Northwestern University Press, 2012.

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