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Ruth Bryan Owen (Rohde) was born on Oct. 2, 1885 in Jacksonville, Illinois. When she was two years old, her family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. She was the oldest child of William Jennings Bryan and Mary Elizabeth Baird Bryan. William Jennings Bryan was a three-time Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. Ruth Bryan Owen served as her father's secretary and campaign manager in his last presidential campaign. Thus, she had first-hand experience with politics and government and from childhood had developed an insider's view of politics.
Ruth Bryan attended school at the Monticello Female Academy in Illinois and then at the University of Nebraska. After two years at Nebraska, she left to marry an artist, William Homer Leavitt. They had two children, but were divorced in 1909.
Ruth Bryan then traveled to Germany to study and met a British officer, Major Reginald Owen. In 1910, she married Major Owen. During World War I, Major Owen was stationed in the Middle East. Ruth Bryan Owen spent time in England serving as secretary-treasurer of the American Woman's War Relief Fund, then served in Cairo, Egypt as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) war nurse during Britain's Egypt-Palestine campaign. After the war, she and her husband moved to Coconut Grove, Florida to live with her parents. Ruth Owen began a career as a lecturer and in 1925 was named vice-chairman of the board of regents at the University of Miami. She also taught public speaking at the University of Miami from 1927-1928.
After the death of Major Owen in 1927, Ruth Owen decided to run for political office. In 1929, Owen was elected to the Seventy-first Congress and re-elected to the Seventy-second Congress as the representative of Florida's Fourth Congressional District. This district included the coastal counties from Duval to Monroe along Florida's east coast. She was the first congresswoman elected from the South.
Owen was one of the first congresswomen to concentrate on feminist issues. She introduced legislation to create a cabinet-level Department of Home & Child. She was the first woman to serve on a major congressional committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee. She sponsored numerous bills including the proposal designating the Florida Everglades as a national park. She was defeated for a third term, primarily because of her support of Prohibition.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as Minister to Denmark. This marked the first time a woman had been chosen to represent the United States in that high a diplomatic post. She served in this post until 1936 when she married a Danish citizen, Captain Borge Rohde. Due to the marriage she had to resign the post of Minister because of dual citizenship. In 1949, Owen was named as an alternate delegate to the United Nation's General Assembly by President Truman.
In 1954, Ruth Bryan Owen died at the age of 68 while visiting Denmark to receive an order of merit recognizing her contribution to Danish-American friendship. She is buried near Copenhagen.
The materials in this collection were donated to the Florida State Archives by Ruth Hanold Crane, the granddaughter of Lorraine Comstock Evarts. Mrs. Evarts met Ruth Bryan at the University of Nebraska as students and they became good friends. Ruth Hanold Crane's mother, Ruth Lorraine Evarts Hanold, was named for Ruth Bryan Owen. Ruth Lorraine Hanold also collected the bulk of the material that was donated to the Archives.
This collection contains correspondence, news clippings, subject files, and photographs documenting Ruth Bryan Owen's career as a World War I nurse, legislator, diplomat, educator, and public speaker. Materials of interest include clippings and correspondence from her career as a Representative from Florida in Washington, D.C.; clippings of her career in the Foreign Service to Denmark and the United Nations; and biographical and genealogical information.
Folder listing available. 0
Additional Physical Form:
Location of Originals/Duplicates:
For more materials on Ruth Bryan Owens, see Collection N2020-3, James Rider Roy Correspondence from Ruth Bryan Owen, 1930-1934 (0.1 cubic foot).
Electronic Records Access:
Subject Access Fields:
Owen, Ruth Bryan, 1885-1954.
Women legislators Florida Women History 20th century Florida Political campaigns.
Clippings. aat Photographs. aat Letters. aat