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Bowen family photographs

Identifier: ahc.VIS38

Scope and Content

The collection of photographs encompasses images of the Bowen family. The bulk of the photograph collection consists of images of studio poses and bust portraits of Reverend Bowen and his second wife, Irene Smallwood Bowen, and of John Wesley Edward Bowen, Jr., including Bowen, Jr. in a class photograph. Other images are unidentified studio poses and a postcard with an image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which shows King enjoying a joke by comedian Joey Adams at a benefit for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for the March on Washington in 1963.


  • approximately 1889-1963


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

This material is protected by copyright law. (Title 17, U.S. Code) Permission for use must be cleared through the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Licensing agreement may be required.

Administrative/Biographical History

John Wesley Edward Bowen (1855-1933) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to Rosa Bowen and Edward Bowen, an enslaved entrepreneur who purchased his family’s freedom. Bowen attended Union Normal School in New Orleans. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans (UNO), a school established by the Methodist Episcopal Church to educate freed slaves, and graduated in 1878 with the institution’s first graduating class. After graduating from UNO, Bowen served as a professor of ancient languages at Central Tennessee College (later Walden University) in Nashville, Tennessee from 1878-1882. In 1881, he served as a deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Bowen then decided to attend Boston University to complete his bachelor’s degree in sacred theology in 1885.

In 1886, Bowen married Ariel Serena Hedges (1863-1904), who later served as a professor of music at Clark College, in Atlanta, Georgia (later Clark Atlanta University). That same year, he returned to New Orleans to obtain his master’s degree and then returned to Boston University for his doctorate degree in historical theology. Together the couple had four children, three girls: Irene T. Bowen (1888-1955), Juanita Bowen Dix (1891-1955), and Portia Edmonia Bowen (1894-1900); and one son, John Wesley Edward, Jr. (1889-1962). Bowen graduated in 1887 and became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Boston University and the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in the nation.

Bowen pastored at several churches, authored and edited publications, and gave sermons around the world until 1893. In 1893, Bowen moved to Atlanta to serve as the chair of historical theology at Gammon Theological Seminary, and thus began his 39-year tenure at the institution. Two years after Ariel’s death, Bowen married Irene Smallwood (1861-1954) of Calhoun, Alabama. On October 12, 1906, Bowen became the first African American president of the institution, serving for four years. Following his presidency, he served as vice-president until his retirement in 1932. As an author and editor, Bowen edited The Voice of the Negro, a literary journal targeting an African American audience, which was published from 1904-1907. He authored a number of publications, including National Sermons, Negro Bishops, Africa and the American Negro, The United Negro, and pamphlets, The Psychological Principle of Revelation, Teacher Training vs. Book Training, and others.

John Wesley Edward Bowen died in Atlanta at the age of 77 on July 20, 1933.


41 photographic print(s) (41 black and white photographs)



System of Arrangement

This collection is arranged alphabetically according to titles supplied by staff.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 1991

Description Control

This collection was re-processed in 2015.
Bowen family photographs
Felicia Render
October 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center Repository

130 West Paces Ferry Road
Atlanta GA 30305