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Bowen, Catharine Shober Drinker (1897–1973) - Biography

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Catharine Shober Drinker Bowen was born on the Haverford (Pennsylvania) College campus on January 1, 1897, to Henry Sturgis and Aimee Ernesta (Beaux) Drinker. The Drinker family motto was “Excellence is the starting point,” and among Catharine’s five siblings were a lawyer (Harry), the inventor of the iron lung (Philip), and a dean of the Harvard School of Public Health (Cecil). Her aunt, Cecilia Beaux, was a well-known portrait painter.

Catharine’s father, general solicitor of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, was named president of Lehigh University in 1905, at which time the family moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Catharine was sent to Miss Kellogg’s dame school and then to Moravian Academy and St. Timothy’s School in Catonsville, Maryland. Although her formal education was sporadic because she traveled with her family, she trained for a career as a violinist at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the Institute of Musical Art (later Juilliard) in New York.

In 1919 Catharine married Ezra Bowen, an associate professor of economics at Lehigh University. The next year the couple moved to Easton, Pennsylvania, when Ezra became head of the economics department at Lafayette College. Catharine began her writing career by winning ten dollars in an Easton Express contest. She sold stories and wrote a daily column for the Express before writing A History of Lehigh University .

The Bowens were divorced in 1936. Catharine’s one novel, Rufus Storbuch’s Wife (1932), was a (probably semi-autobiographical) account of two talented people living together. In 1935 her career took a turn that was to make her famous. She published a book of essays on music and amateur musicians, Friends and Fiddlers . This led to “Beloved Friend”: The Story of Tchaikowsky and Nadejda Von Meck (1937) and Free Artist: The Story of Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein (1939). In 1939 she married Thomas McKean Downs, a surgeon.

In 1944 Catharine Bowen’s interests concentrated on men who had formed and interpreted the constitutional government of the United States. Her first book in this series was Yankee from Olympus: Justice Holmes and His Family . Holmes’s literary executors refused Bowen permission to read unpublished material, but the book was well received. She was also refused access to unpublished material for John Adams and the American Revolution (1950) and was criticized for writing “fictionalized biography.”

After John Adams , Catharine decided to trace the foundations of U.S. constitutional government in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England with a biography of Edward Coke. She continued to meet with resistance while researching at Cambridge but completed The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke, 1552–1634 (1957). She received the Phillips Prize from the American Philosophical Society for “the best essay … on the science and philosophy of jurisprudence” and was offered membership in the society. In 1958 she won the National Book Award.

The Coke biography was followed by Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man (1963); a biography of the Bowen family, Family Portrait (1970); and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Scenes from the Life of Benjamin Franklin (1974), published after her death from cancer on November 1, 1973. Catharine Bowen also wrote a series of essays on the craft of biographical writing, published in The Writing of Biography (1951), Adventures of a Biographer (1959), and Biography: The Craft and Calling (1969).

Bowen, J. W. E.(1885–1933) - Educator, minister, writer, lecturer, Chronology, Provides Shelter during Atlanta Riot [next]

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