Owen, Ruth Bryan, 1885-1954Variant names
Ruth Baird Bryan Leavitt Owen Rohde, also known as Ruth Bryan Owen, (October 2, 1885 – July 26, 1954) was an author and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, Owen was the daughter of three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. In 1928, she was elected from Florida's 4th district as Florida's first female U.S. Representative and the second from the South after Alice Mary Robertson. Representative Owen was also the first woman to earn a seat on the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She campaigned for prohibition.
Born in Jacksonville, Illinois, Ruth Bryan moved in response to her father’s rising political fortunes—first, upon his election to the Nebraska legislature, to Lincoln, when Ruth Bryan was two years old and then to Washington, D.C. after her father's election to the U.S. House of Representatives. She attended public schools in Washington, DC, and the Monticello Female Academy in Godfrey, Illinois. She entered the University of Nebraska in 1901 and took two years of classes before marrying the artist William Homer Leavitt in 1903. The couple has two children before their divorce in 1909.
Bryan married Reginald Owen, a British Army officer, in 1910, and had two more children with him. The family lived at Reginald Owen’s numerous overseas duty posts. During World War I, Owen served as a war nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment in the Egypt–Palestine campaign from 1915 to 1918. She also served as a secretary for the American Women's War Relief Fund. When her husband’s health failed in 1919, she moved the family to Miami, Florida, to be near her parents. For the next 10 years, she spoke on a professional lecture circuit and served as a faculty member and on the board of regents at the University of Miami.
A year after her father’s death in 1925, Ruth Bryan Owen decided to run for the House of Representatives in a district along Florida’s Atlantic coast, losing narrrowly to six-term incumbent William J. Sears. Owen did not leave the political arena; she ran again for the same seat in 1928, the year she was widowed. Thanks in part to relief work after a devastating hurricane ripped through Miami in 1927, Owen triumphed over Sears in the 1928 Democratic primary by more than 14,000 votes.
Owen ran for re-election in 1930, defeating Daytona Beach attorney Dewitt T. Deen by a wide margin in the June Democratic primary election. As the Republican Party did not nominate a candidate to run against the Democratic nominee, the pro-prohibition Owen was heralded in the press as presumably having won re-election by virtue of her Democratic nomination. Her pro-Prohibition stance led to her being defeated two years later. Bowing to the wishes of her constituents, Owen voted in favor of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment, despite her personal convictions, prior to leaving Congress.
In April 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Owen, a longtime family friend, as Minister to Denmark—making her the first American woman to head a diplomatic legation. On July 11, 1936, Owen married Captain Borge Rohde of the Danish Royal Guards. Because her marriage meant that she was a citizen of both Denmark and the United States, she had to resign her diplomatic post, but Owen spent the fall of 1936 campaigning for Roosevelt’s re-election. From 1938 to 1954, she served on the Advisory Board of the Federal Reformatory for Women. In 1949 President Harry S. Truman appointed her as an alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. Owen lived in Ossining, New York, lecturing and publishing several well-received books on Scandinavia. She died in Copenhagen on July 26, 1954, during a trip to accept the Danish Order of Merit from King Frederick IX recognizing her contributions to American-Danish relations.
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|New York City||NY||US|
|District of Columbia||DC||US|
|Representatives, U.S. Congress|