Reference Entry

Bowser, Rosa

Crystal Renée Sanders

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Bowser, Rosa

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educator and community leader, was born in Amelia County, Virginia, probably a slave, to Henry Dixon, a carpenter, and Augusta Hawkins Dixon, a domestic servant. After emancipation she moved with her family to Richmond, where they were active in the First African Baptist Church and where she would teach Sunday school for the next half century. Bowser completed her education at Richmond Colored Normal School, where she was taught by the school's founder, Rabza Morse Manly, a noted educator throughout the South.In 1872 Bowser began her teaching career at Richmond's Navy Hill School. She became the first black woman appointed to teach in Richmond public schools and continued to teach until her marriage to James Herndon Bowser on 4 September 1878. Their only child, Oswald Barrington Herndon Bowser, who became a well‐known physician in Richmond, was born two years later. Her husband died in 1881, and in 1883 Bowser returned to the Navy Hill School. The following year she began teaching at Baker Street School, where she would remain until her retirement in 1923.Bowser is believed to have organized Richmond's first night school for black men in 1896. In the nineteenth century former slaves lobbied for universal education and the creation of black schools, aware that schooling for blacks was the primary vehicle to achieve economic independence. The night school Bowser created allowed men to work and still receive basic literacy instruction during evening hours.Outside the classroom, Bowser participated in several church and civic organizations. From 1890 to 1892 she served as president of the Virginia State Teachers Association, an organization of professional African American educators who lobbied for equal salaries and better facilities. In August 1895 she helped to found the Richmond Women's League at a time when black women had launched a national campaign to denounce lynching. As the first president of the organization, Bowser oversaw a campaign that generated more than five hundred dollars for the defense of three black Lunenburg women charged with murder. She also worked in collaboration with national figures such as Mary Eliza Church Terrell and Maggie Lena Walker in support of the treatment of tuberculosis and the creation of kindergartens for African American children. She participated in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896 and was once nominated—though not elected—to be president of the organization. Bowser also helped to found the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs in 1908 and became the first chairperson of the Women's Missionary and Educational Society of Virginia.Working in these civic organizations, Bowser bore witness to the community consciousness and black agency that afforded blacks a sense of dignity in the face of social and political repression. In the Jim Crow South, black educational institutions, when they existed at all, were extremely underfunded and neglected. Black citizens paid property taxes to finance schools but, because of insufficient aid from public school authorities, they were forced to raise more money among themselves. Bowser's service exemplified black commitment to provide schooling to as many people as possible.As an active member of the NACW, whose motto was “Lifting as We Climb,” Bowser worked to improve the conditions of black homes. She believed that improving black homes and families would foster the advancement of the entire black community. NACW women held classes on housekeeping and childrearing and advocated temperance. The NACW also supported passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote and helped make the 1920s antilynching campaign an issue of national prominence. The organization remains an integral part of the black community and, among other things, awards annual college scholarships to young black students.In recognition of Bowser's lifelong commitment to the people of Richmond, the first branch of the Richmond Public Library system for African American patrons was named in her honor on 2 December 1925. Six years later Bowser died of complications from diabetes at her home in Richmond. In 1976 the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco) awarded Bowser posthumous national recognition by including her in its Bicentennial Salute to Twenty‐four Outstanding Black Educators.

Reference Entry.  731 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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