At the Opening
Joseph Tilton Bowen Country Club
Jane Addams -- 1912
All of us who know Joseph Tilton Bowen realize that a memorial in his name should suggest courtesy, hospitality, and comeliness. To this end it seemed to his wife that nothing so suitable could be forever associated with him as a country club built upon an attractive site which would extend a constant hospitality to these most sorely in need of rest, of health, and of recreation. Such a memorial would certainly be more appropriate as well as more beautiful than anything that could be erected in the crowded part of the city in which Hull-House stands, for Mr. Bowen throughout his life had preserved that simplicity and charm which we commonly consider the great gift of the country.
It is not altogether easy to find natural beauty in the environs of Chicago. I was with Mrs. Bowen when she visited sixty-seven possible sites lying in all directions from the city, but when this one was finally decided upon, because it was not only entirely suitable but by far the most beautiful of all, we had no regrets for something which we had not chosen. Sometimes one would like to move the ravine from one place, the gentle slopes from another, the woods of oak and birch from another, and put them together in a way Nature herself seldom permits; but in this place all desirable things seem to have been combined without the interference of man, although we are happy that he had long ago been permitted to add a garden, an orchard, a well surrounded by lilacs and an interesting old house.
It adds greatly to the value of a memorial that the people to profit by it, to use it intimately, should have known and admired the person to whom the memorial [Page 2] is dedicated. Through the various Hull-House organizations, Mr. Bowen had a large acquaintance with many people living in our neighborhood. I have been much impressed with the things they have said during these last few months, when the common experience of death has drawn us together in a peculiar fellowship. We remember that "we are not singled out for a special judgment when we give up our dead, we but enter into a common sorrow, a sorrow that visits the proudest and humblest, that has entered into unnumbered hearts before us and will enter into innumerable ones after us, a sorrow that makes the world one, and dissolves all other feelings into sympathy and affection."
Humble people who had known Mr. Bowen but slightly had yet attained a sincere appreciation of his good life, of his care for those who needed help, of his devotion to his family.
Because it was difficult to wait for the formal opening, we have already had gatherings here during the beautiful spring weather. At one of these, several touching addresses were given by members of the Hull-House Woman's Club. As you know, Mrs. Bowen had erected a building for that club and her husband with her, had been active in promoting its activities. A woman who had known him for many years expressed somewhat awkwardly that general impression she had always had that a husband must be one of two things; either he was sober and steady but inclined to be disagreeable or else, as she knew sometimes to her sorrow, he was so pleasure-loving that he would lead a dance and be a jolly partner but was not always admirable in other ways. To know a man at once so kindly and "highly respectable," ready to enter into all the pleasures of the club and dignified and courteous, was to her therefore a revelation of a new type.
I recall the parties which Mrs. Bowen gave once a year when each member of the Club could bring an escort, and because more than a thousand people would attend one party we were obliged to have them in three different buildings. I am giving the [Page 3] details of this because it was Mr. Bowen's scheme, and without him it never would have been successfully carried out. Each guest had received with the invitation either a pink ticket or a blue ticket. The people with the blue tickets went first to Bowen Hall where there was dancing and the pink-ticket people went to Bowen Hall and the blue-ticket people to supper. We used to say each time that it could not be done without a stampede and it became almost a matter of personal triumph to Mr. Bowen when it worked out so smoothly year after year.
I also recall Mr. Bowen's pleasure in the opening of the Boys' Club and his hard work during the last few days that all might be in readiness. As the first automobile drove up with our guests, Mr. Bowen was sweeping off the front walk while I gave a final polish to the stairs inside. There was always a whole-hearted cooperation, to the last detail, in everything that came to Hull-House through his wife. His delightful participation never failed and his spirit of hospitality spread through the entire place until everyone felt the contagion.
It is easy to associate him with a Boys' Club, for many of us who knew Mr. Bowen during the years when his children were growing up about him must vividly recall his spirit of youth, his charm and zest for life. In the words of a wise man, "To remain young long, in the spontaneity and tenderness of the heart, to preserve ever, not only in the outer behavior but in the inner life, a certain lightness, a certain elasticity -- this is the best way to rule our lives; for what greater force is there than youth?"
Because of this inner life, he had an understanding of young people founded upon an encouragement of their ardors and an espousal of their enthusiasm. He did not feel that necessity to temper the zest of youth which so often results in alienating it. This vivacity of perennial comradeship with the young was perhaps the most outstanding manifestation of this power of this power to work out human relationships in terms of good will.
[Page 4] Yet it was not confined to the young, for the aged and the infirm were equally attracted to him. There is a famous story in the family of his adventures one summer when he visited an elderly relative in Rhode Island and found in her boarding house six other old ladies, all of whom -- including one in a wheel chair and one on crutches -- seemed to him in great need of a little pleasure. He chartered a launch in which he took the seven old ladies for a day's excursion upon the bay. Unhappily the boat was run down by a huge steamer and all the helpless guests, while not thrown into the sea, were rescued from the sinking launch only by the most heroic efforts on the part of the captain and their gallant escort. When they were finally placed upon the steamer, finding themselves being swiftly carried ever farther away from home, they shed copious tears; but upon their return next day, safe and sound, they at once became a chorus of admirers for their kind host whose courtesy and courage never failed them and who became the hero of an opus with seven variations.
Joseph Tilton Bowen instinctively followed the advice "to live not in contention with others, but for the help, delight, and honor of others, and for the joy and peace of our own lives." It is a great gift, this ability to establish sincere and direct relations with human beings of all sorts, and he habitually made such genuine relationships, whether he was president of the Church Club of Chicago, chairman of the Schools Committee of the Commercial Club, a Director of the Bar Harbor Horse Show, or of the Board of St. Luke's Hospital. His kindliness and sympathy were always restrained by the courtesy of the gentleman who never intruded even the wise word. If it is true that "he who hateth his brother is in darkness and knoweth not whither he goeth," so it is also true that he who is content with bungling and half-hearted human relations spends his life and a twilight of souls and knows nothing of the glory of human brotherhood. That Mr. Bowen had come to recognize brothers in all men because he had long recognized God as the Father of all men, made the foundations of his wide and courteous relationships all the more secure. His rector, who [Page 5] knew him long as a warden of St. James, has termed him an "apostle of life" and describes his marvelous gift as that of "a man in whose company it seemed as if the world was bound to go right -- it could not but go right -- you had but to look at it and speak to it and it would go right."
His friend and physician, Dr. Favill, has just said that there is only one thing amongst our human difficulties worse than not to be able to get into the country and that is not to want to go. We will not encounter that difficulty among our peasant neighbors who have gathered oranges to Calabria and olives in Greece, who have gleamed the poppy-strewn wheat fields throughout Europe, and dug for peat in the bogs of Ireland. They spend their first years in America in those insanitary habitations found in the most crowded quarters of our cities, and they fairly languish for the country -- for the feel of the earth beneath their feet, the sight and smell of growing things. Dr. Favill has added that an invitation to share a place such as this sounds one of the deepest and tenderest human notes, not only because the thing is good, but because the response which it evokes is in itself uplifting. We venture to hope that we may in time add solace for homesick souls, and the offer of friendship to the friendless.
It is a great responsibility for the Hull-House Trustees to lift the Joseph Tilton Bowen Country Club to its highest development, to be sensitive to its growing possibilities, to realize that fresh air can really penetrate only into the lungs of those who breathe with freedom and happiness. Perhaps our greatest source of beauty in the immediate environs of Chicago is found in the dunes that stretch to the east and north of the city. We are on the brink of a beautiful stretch of marsh and dunes directly [north] of these grounds. During the last few months, when the building of the club houses has brought us here very often, these marshes have not only stood for their own beauty and the sorrow which was pressing upon the hearts of Mr. Bowen's friends, but in some mysterious way they have suggested the tranquility of his religious faith, in such a mood as has been portrayed by a poet:
Someone asked me the other day what motto we were going to put over the door, apparently in the conviction that every club must have a motto over a door. I was a little startled by the suddenness of the question and while I could not remember the exact quotation, in the back of my head there ran a line: "Secure, from the slow stain of the world's contagion." I suppose all of us who live in the midst of the city find ourselves easily stained by the contagion of the world, and to have a place secure from it to which we may repair is not only delightful but necessary to the health of our souls.
If such a refuge is ever developed here, with its inner garden which Mrs. Bowen has permanently endowed, it will be a most fitting tribute to his whose name it bears. We may well say: