Owen, Robert L. (Robert Latham), 1856-1947
Robert Latham Owen Jr. (February 2, 1856 – July 19, 1947) was an American politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as one of the first two U.S. Senators from Oklahoma, in office from 1907 to 1925.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, he attended private schools there and in Baltimore, Maryland before graduating from Washington and Lee University. Following graduation, Owen moved in 1879 to Salina in Indian Territory (now Salina, Oklahoma) where he was accepted as a member of the Cherokee Nation. From 1879 to 1880, he served as the principal teacher of the Cherokee Orphan Asylum. From 1881 to 1884, he served as secretary of the board of education of the Cherokee Nation, and worked on reorganizing the Cherokee school system. Owen was owner and editor of the "Indian Chieftain" newspaper, based in present-day Vinita, Oklahoma, in 1884. From 1885 to 1889, he was a federal Indian agent for the Five Civilized Tribes. After Benjamin Harrison became President in 1889, Owen left government service and organized the First National Bank of Muskogee in 1890, serving as its president for ten years.
Owen served as a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1892 to 1896. He helped promote passage of an act in 1901 to give citizenship to residents of Indian Territory. He subsequently played a leading role in the group that in 1905 organized the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention in pursuit of the admission of Indian Territory to the Union as the State of Sequoyah. Owen was active in a number of efforts to increase popular control of government. He was also a consistent supporter of Prohibition and campaigned for women's suffrage. Owen was among the organizers of the National Popular Government League, and served as its president from 1913 until 1928.
Owen was elected as one of Oklahoma's first two Senators upon statehood, becoming the second U.S. Senator at the time with acknowledged Native American ancestry, alongside Republican Charles Curtis of Kansas. In 1908 Owen helped pass the Removal of Restrictions Act, making thousands of Indian allotments available for sale in Oklahoma. As senator he consistently protected the economic interests of a majority of his constituents, including those in the oil industry. On national issues he spoke frequently and passionately against special interests and supported presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. In 1910, reflecting the reform mentality of the day, he introduced an unsuccessful bill to create a cabinet-level department of health, decades before the creation of a similar department. In 1912, when self-styled progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidency, the newly reelected Owen began taking a major role in legislation. Most significant, as chair of the committee on banking and currency, he cosponsored the Federal Reserve Act, arguably the most important banking legislation of the twentieth century. Owen considered this law his crowning achievement as senator, and other politicians and his constituents agreed. The Keating-Owen Child Labor Law of 1916 also reflected his effectiveness.
When the United States joined the conflict raging in Europe in 1917, Owen proved to be one of the staunchest senatorial allies of Wilson and the war. He also supported Wilson's League of Nations in 1919, working to effect a compromise, but the Senate rejected those efforts. Following the war, Owen's influence waned with the Republican ascendancy. He declined reelection in 1924 after three terms. In retirement Owen remained in Washington, D.C., as a lawyer-lobbyist and frequent commentator on public events. During the Great Depression Owen advocated various schemes to bring about inflation to stimulate the economy, and he criticized Federal Reserve policies. Following World War II, blind and in failing health, Owen invented an international alphabet that he hoped would be used by diplomats. He died of complications from prostate surgery.
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|Federal Government Official|
|Senators, U.S. Congress|