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Friday, April 19, 2013

Joseph T. Bowen Country Club, Waukegan


One of Chicago's great civic leaders, Louise DeKoven Bowen (1859-1953), left the legacy of Bowen Park on Sheridan Road in Waukegan.

Louise DeKoven Bowen (1859 - 1953) 
Bowen's career as a social reformer began in 1893 when Jane Addams asked her to join the Hull House Woman's Club. The two women shared many values including women’s suffrage and children's health, and Bowen became one of Addams’ key benefactors.

The 19th century saw a myriad of social reform movements, including those centered on temperance, and the needs of poor working families. Among these Progressive movements was Hull House, founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gages Starr on Chicago’s near west side.

Hull House became a center of social reform and cultural activity for immigrant women and children; and led the way for the first juvenile court in the United States, woman's suffrage, national child labor laws, and workers' compensation.

By 1896, Louise DeKoven Bowen had become a trustee and the treasurer for Hull House. In 1911, when her husband Joseph T. Bowen died, she volunteered to endow a park in his memory to expand Hull Houses's reach. Louise purchased 72-acres north of Waukegan for $29,000.

Louise DeKoven Bowen with "campers" at the Bowen Country Club.
Photo courtesy of the Waukegan Park District. 

The Joseph T. Bowen Country Club fulfilled Jane Addams’ longtime dream of giving city children a taste of summer in the country. The summer camp provided a country setting where disadvantaged mothers and children from the Taylor and Halstead area of Chicago could come.

Every two weeks during the summer, “campers” arrived at the Bowen Country Club where they were given relief from noise, pollution and fear of the city streets and taught to respect each other and the environment.

One camp counselor recalled that “in a setting of great beauty, people of many races, religions and ethnic backgrounds lived, worked, played, ate, sang and danced together in an atmosphere of harmony and joy.”

Celebrating the Fourth of July at the Bowen Country Club, circa 1920.
Collections of the University of Illinois at Chicago

Over 40,000 women and children benefited from summer stays at the Bowen Country Club, which operated from 1912 to 1962.

After Jane Addams died in 1935, Louise DeKoven Bowen became president of the Hull House Association. Bowen continued her work for women's suffrage until her death at the age of 94.

In 1963, the Waukegan Park District purchased the Bowen Country Club, and in 1978 the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bowen Park's beautiful country setting also includes the Jack Benny Center of the Arts, and the Waukegan History Museum.