Betty Bowen, Cultural Activist

Betty Bowen with Richard Fuller at SAM

Queen Anne resident Betty Bowen (1918-1977) played a major role in Seattle cultural life — as assistant director of the Seattle Art Museum, as a civic activist on behalf of the arts and historic preservation, and a promoter of Seattle artists.

Born Betty Cornelius in Kent, Washington to a family tracing its roots to Western Washington’s early settlers, she earned an English degree from the University of Washington.  She worked briefly as a reporter for The Seattle Times, then as women’s editor for the Seattle Star.  She married John Bowen, captain of ships that laid undersea cables.

During the 1950s, Bowen divided her time between volunteering and public relations work.  Dr. Richard Fuller, founder of the Seattle Art Museum, hired her as publicist, then promoted her to assistant director – and she continued in that role until Fuller retired in 1973.  She came to know many of the city’s artists.  The Museum presents the annual Betty Bowen Award in recognition of her support of the local artistic community.

Betty Bowen played an active part in civic affairs, helping organize support for the arts and for historic preservation.  An original member of the Seattle Arts Commission (established 1971), a founding member of the Pacific Northwest Arts and Crafts Center, and a founding member and chair of the Allied Arts Historic Preservation Committee, she helped organize one of the successful efforts to preserve the Pike Place Market as a designated historic district, and served on the board of Friends of the Market.

Betty hosted events in support of artists and cultural causes at the Bowen home, at 715 West Prospect on Queen Anne Hill.  The house and its gardens received designation as city landmarks.

Betty Bowen House today

Two days before she died of a brain tumor at age 58, Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman named her First Citizen of Seattle and proclaimed Valentines Day in her honor.

Her good friend the architect Victor Steinbrueck organized the creation of the Betty Bowen Viewpoint (Marshall Park) as a memorial to her, just up the hill from the Bowen home, at 7th Avenue W and W Highland Drive.  The memorial includes works by leading Northwest artists:  Guy Anderson, Harold Balazs, Kenneth Callahan, Richard Gilkey, Morris Graves, Leo Kenny, Victor Steinbrueck, Charles Stokes, Margaret Tompkins, and James Washington, Jr.

Plaque at Betty Bowen Overlook documenting works created by NW artists in Bowen’s honor.

Primary source:  “Betty Bowen (1918-1977)” by Mildred Andrews, HistoryLink 1999