Betty Bowen was born Betty Cornelius in 1919 in Kent, Washington, and raised in Skagit County. After graduating from the University of Washington in 1940, she worked first as a reporter for the Seattle Times, then as women's editor at the Seattle Star . She subsequently did free-lance public relations work.
From the 1940s, Bowen was a prominent figure in the Seattle art world. In 1953, Dr. Richard Fuller hired Bowen to be public relations director for the Seattle Art Museum. He later appointed her assistant to the director. She served until Fuller's retirement in 1973. Bowen's colorful personality both contrasted with and complemented Fuller's more conservative temperament and energized the Seattle arts establishment. Bowen effectively used her considerable influence in the art world and with the media to promote her interest in local artists. She was an original member of the Municipal (later Seattle) Arts Commission and a founding member of the Pacific Northwest Arts and Crafts Center. Bowen was also active in Seattle's historic preservation movement. She was founder and chairperson of the Allied Arts Historic Conservation Committee of Seattle and served as a member of the Friends of the Market, which won designation of the Pike Place Market as a historic district.
Bowen's personal commitment to the well being of local artists was legendary, and she was known as "the den mother of the city's arts." She did not merely provide artists with valuable public exposure and introductions to wealthy art patrons. Her support often extended to feeding and clothing her artist friends during lean times. She befriended and nurtured painters Morris Graves (whom she first met as a teenager), Mark Tobey, Richard Gilkey and others of their generation, and later Charles Krafft and the writer Tom Robbins.
Betty Bowen was married to John Bowen, captain of a transoceanic cable-laying ship. She died in 1977. Since 1978, the Betty Bowen Memorial Award has been award by the Seattle Art Museum to emerging and established regional artists.
From the guide to the Betty Bowen Papers, 1920-1977, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)