Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Narcissa Chisholm Owen, 1831-1911

By Madeline Bennett
Undergraduate Student, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma.

Narcissa Chisholm Owen was born on October 3, 1831 in Webber Falls, Oklahoma to an Irish mother and the last hereditary war chief of the Western Cherokees. Due to a dust storm in 1933, Thomas Chisholm moved his family of five to Maysville in Beatties Prairie region. In 1834, Narcissa and her siblings lost their father to typhoid fever. Their mother, Malinda, could not support her four children, and they were all sent to Old Dwight Mission School in the Cherokee Nation. In 1845, Narcissa studied art at a women's college in New Albany, Indiana, then transferred to Miss Sawyer's Female Seminary in Fayetteville, Arkansas. During a trip to Jonesboro, Tennessee to visit a friend, Narcissa was offered the position of music teacher at Masonic High School. While teaching in Tennessee, she met Robert Latham Owen, a civil engineer and president of the Virginia and Tennessee Railway. On October 4, 1853, Narcissa and Robert were married. After marrying, they settled in Rogersville, Tennessee, where they had two sons; William Otway Owen Jr. in 1854 and Robert Latham Owen Jr. in 1856. The Owen family relocated to Norfolk, Virginia in 1870, and purchased the Charles Drummond farm. Mr. Owen passed away in 1873 at their Norfolk home, and in 1880, Narcissa was asked to teach at the Cherokee Female Seminary in Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma.) Narcissa, in her later life, became a very well-known painter, and named "The Mother of Cherokee Paintings." Narcissa Chisholm Owen died on Wednesday, July 12, 1911 in Guthrie, Oklahoma and was buried with her husband in Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia.

During her marriage, Narcissa spent most her time tending to The Point of Honor estate. She looked after her sons, and kept the grounds and gardens in order. Narcissa also participated in the Civil War efforts in Lynchburg. The ladies of Lynchburg came together to help the Confederate soldiers who were camping in a city nearby. The men wore farming or mountainous clothing not suitable for battle. The ladies of Lynchburg, Narcissa included, made uniforms for the soldiers, and provided hospital supplies. Narcissa even established fundraising to support the financial needs of the wives and children of the soldiers. Other than the war efforts, Narcissa was also a ten-year choir member of the St. Paul Episcopal Church, an avid piano and guitar player, and a distinguished artist.

In the summer of 1885, during a visit to see her eldest son in Fort Spokane, Narcissa became inspired by the beautiful scenery in the Washington territory, and took up painting. She continued her artistic career, practicing tapestry, landscapes, and portrait work. In 1904, her portraits of Thomas Jefferson and his family won diploma and medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Narcissa commemorated her life with a book titled, A Cherokee Woman's America: Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, in 1907. Narcissa strived to aid others, spread Cherokee heritage, and capture important lives in her paintings. She also had influence through her work towards women's suffrage.

Narcissa's role in women's suffrage was minor at the beginning, but soon took off when her son, Robert Latham Owen Jr., became one of the first two U.S. senators from Oklahoma in 1907. Growing up with a strong female presence, Robert respected the suffrage movement and helped financially, as well as politically. As a member of the Indian Women's Woman Suffrage League of Indian Territory, Narcissa organized an Indian women's department in Eastern Oklahoma and in 1909 on the 24th of May the Indian women took up the fight to broaden their voting rights to more than just school matters. A year later, on March 29, 1910, Narcissa was selected to be one of the woman suffrage delegates from Oklahoma.


Janet Shaffer, "Narcissa and Robert Owen: The Point of Honor Years." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 89, no. 2 (Apr. 1981): pp. 153-69. Kate White, "John Chisholm, A Soldier of Fortune." Chronicles of Oklahoma 8, no. 2 (1930). Robert L. Owen, Jr. "Cherokee Genealogy of Narcissa Chisholm." The Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center, 1983. The Vinita Daily Chieftain (Vinita, Indian Territory [Okla.]), 24 May 24 1909. The Daily Democrat (Anadarko, Okla.), 14 May 1907. America Meredith, "Narcissa Chisholm Owen: The Mother of Cherokee Painting?" Ahalenia, 7 February 2012. The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore, Okla.), 29 March 1910.

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