BOWDEN, ARTEMISIA

Judith N. McArthur
Artemisia Bowden (1879–1969).
Artemisia Bowden. Courtesy of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

BOWDEN, ARTEMISIA (1879–1969). Artemisia Bowden, African American school administrator and civic leader, was born on January 1, 1879, in Albany, Georgia. She was the daughter of former slaves Milas Bowden and Mary (Molette) Bowden. She grew up in Brunswick, Georgia, where her father was an active member of St. Athanasius Episcopal Methodist Church, and Artemisia and her siblings attended St. Athanasius School. She graduated from St. Augustine's Normal School in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1900. After teaching for two years in North Carolina, first at a parochial school and then at High Point Normal and Industrial School in High Point, North Carolina, she moved to San Antonio, Texas, in 1902 to take over as principal of St. Philip's Day School, an Episcopal day school for black girls (see ST. PHILIP'S COLLEGE). She soon changed the school’s name to St. Philip’s Industrial School for Girls. Under her guidance the school added a boarding department, outgrew its original facilities, and by 1926 had achieved private junior college status, with Bowden as president.

Artemisia Bowden with a Group of Young Women.
Artemisia Bowden with a Group of Young Women. Courtesy of the Portal to Texas HistoryImage available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

During the Great Depression, when the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of West Texas would no longer accept financial responsibility for the college, Bowden refused to let the school die. She assumed the obligation of keeping St. Philip's open and began a campaign to have the San Antonio Independent School District take over the institution. Although she argued that the city owed African Americans a publicly supported junior college as long as it continued to operate a white junior college out of public funds, the board of education repeatedly refused to accede. Finally, in 1942, it reluctantly incorporated St. Philip's into the municipal junior college system, and Artemisia Bowden continued to direct it as dean. In 1954, after fifty-two years as head of St. Philip's, she retired and became dean emerita.

Bowden did graduate work during the summers at Columbia University, Cheney State Teachers' College, the New York School of Social Work, and the University of Colorado. She was granted a B.A. degree in 1935 by St. Augustine's College, her alma mater, after it was upgraded from a normal school, and received honorary degrees from Wiley and Tillotson colleges. She was president of the San Antonio Metropolitan Council of Negro Women, founder and president of the city's Negro Business and Professional Women's Club, and a member of the executive committee of the Coordination Council on Juvenile Delinquency of the Texas Social Welfare Association. She held memberships in the National Association of College Women's Clubs and several state and national associations for professional educators. She was named to the Texas Commission on Interracial Relations in 1947.

Bowden, who never married, gave her time outside St. Philip's to civic and welfare projects for the African Americans of San Antonio. She was primarily responsible for the introduction of a black nursing unit in Robert B. Green Hospital, for securing Lindbergh Park for black residents, and for establishing the East End Settlement House. She also helped establish the State Training School for Delinquent Negro Girls at Brady (see CROCKETT STATE SCHOOL).

Legacy of Bowden Mural.
Mural Depicting "The Legacy of Artemisia Bowden" for St. Philip's College. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The National Council of Negro Women cited Artemisia Bowden as one of the ten most outstanding woman educators in the country. Many local organizations also recognized her lifetime of service, including Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, which named her woman of the year in 1955. Bowden Elementary School in San Antonio and Bowden Administration Building at St. Philip's College are named in her honor. She was a member of the Southern Conference of Christians and Jews and of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in San Antonio. She died in San Antonio on August 18, 1969. She was cremated, and her ashes were interred at Good Shepherd Church in Corpus Christi. She was survived by a brother and two sisters. In 2015 the national Episcopal Church included Bowden on its calendar that commemorates people in its publication Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. She was the first person from the Diocese of West Texas so included.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jo Eckerman, "Artemisia Bowden: Dedicated Dreamer," Texas Passages, Winter 1987. Marie Pannell Thurston, St. Philip’s College: A Point of Pride on San Antonio’s Eastside (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2013). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio.

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Handbook of Texas Online, Judith N. McArthur, "Bowden, Artemisia," accessed May 26, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbo80.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on May 22, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.