The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber

THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Bowen, Howard Rothmann
(October 27, 1908–December 22, 1989)

–economist and college and university president—was born in Spokane, Washington, the son of Josephine (Menig) Bowen and Henry Bowen. Howard lived with relatives and neighbors while his divorced mother traveled and earned a modest income demonstrating food products. No idle youth, he helped family members in timber mill kitchens, meat markets, and ranches and acquired a work ethic evident in his later life.

    Bowen entered Washington State University in 1925, majored in economics, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1929. In 1933 he returned to Washington State on an assis tantship and obtained an M.A. in economics. Eager to pursue a Ph.D. and needing financial aid, he received a teaching fellowship at the State University of Iowa.

    Intellectual and cultural life in Iowa City in the early years of the New Deal was "wonderfully stimulating" to Bowen, and he realized that he was a "staunch liberal."After receiving his Ph.D. in 1935, he was appointed instructor in economics at the State University of Iowa and married Lois Schilling, a music graduate student. In 1937 he received a Social Science Research Council Fellowship to spend a year studying British grants-in-aid. He returned to Iowa refreshed professionally and ready to start his first book, Toward Social Economy.

    Bowen's promising academic career was cut short in 1942 when he went to wartime Washington, D.C., first at the Department of Commerce, then to Congress's Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation as chief economist. In 1947 Bowen became dean of the College of Commerce and Business Administration at the University of Illinois. President George Stoddard, whom Bowen had known at Iowa, was attempting to energize a sluggish university, and Bowen's task was to enliven the College of Commerce with young economists. "Old school" business professors resented the Keynesian views of the new faculty and sought support from conservative trustees, including football hero Harold "Red" Grange and newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune. Controversy raged, and Bowen and Stoddard were forced out.

    Bowen went to Williams College in 1952 as professor of economics and found respite in his role as a faculty member and in his renewed interest in liberal arts education. His work ethic resulted in the publication of several books, including Social Responsibilities of the Businessman.

    Bowen came back to Iowa when Grinnell College named him president in 1955. Grinnell had just gone through a presidential and financial crisis, and Bowen quickly set about restoring morale and reviving the traditional mission of the college. That was evident in the title of his inaugural address, "A Free Mind," something he thought was threatened by 1950s McCarthyism. Bowen said, "It is one of the special tasks of small liberal arts colleges like Grinnell to help keep this freedom alive."He took national leadership in opposition to demands for "loyalty oaths" from students who needed federal loans. Faculty oriented, he increased salaries, hired new faculty, and shared the responsibility of governance. The endowment grew, modernist structures replaced old buildings, and Grinnell entered a prosperous and progressive era.

    Success at Grinnell led to an unsolicited offer in 1964 from the Iowa Board of Regents to become president of the University of Iowa. The university had drifted, the faculty was dispirited, and Bowen again took on a task of revival and reform, raising the university to what one source calls "the highest level of excellence that it had yet achieved in the twentieth century."Again Bowen shared responsibilities with an expanding faculty, placed a new emphasis on research, doubled the operating budgets, built buildings, recruited women and minority faculty and students, and reorganized administrative structures–not without struggles with entrenched deans and departments. Greater frustration for Bowen developed in 1968 and 1969 when student protests against the Vietnam War and increasing demands for "Student Power" shattered his vision of a university as a "house of intellect."Fatigued, he resigned in the spring of 1969.

    Sixty years old but not ready to retire, Bowen accepted a position as chair of the economics department at Claremont Graduate School. He was soon asked to become chancellor of the Claremont Graduate Center, where he immersed himself in bold proposals for programs in law and medicine that were dropped as a result of the depressed mood in higher education in the 1970s. In 1974 he returned to teaching and scholarly work, producing prize-winning books on higher education: The State of the Nation and the Agenda for Higher Education and American Professors: A National Resource Imperiled.

    Bowen died in 1989, survived by two sons, Geoffrey and Thomas. He was memorialized as "gentle in manner, yet firm in action... [and] a model for an entire generation of college presidents."
Sources Bowen's papers are in the Grinnell College Archives, Grinnell, Iowa, and in Special Collections, University of Iowa, Iowa City. See also his autobiography, Academic Reflections (1988); Stow Persons, The University of Iowa in the Twentieth Century: An Institutional History (1990); and Alan R. Jones, Pioneering, 1846–1996: A Photographic and Documentary History of Grinnell College (1996).
Contributor: Alan R. Jones

Cite as: Jones, Alan R. "Bowen, Howard Rothmann" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 20 October 2014