Early Life and Education
Katharine Sophia Bowersox was born on August 24, 1869, in Paxtonville, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of a minister in the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Evangelical Association (a German-American Wesleyan denomination) and had one brother, Rollin Bowersox. Katharine was a very independent child who developed a sense of individualism that continued into her later life. She maintained a close relationship with her mother, taking on the task of her mother’s part-time caretaker in later years.
Bowersox graduated from the State Teacher’s College of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania in 1893. She continued taking courses from Columbia University until 1915. Upon graduating from the State Teacher’s College, Bowersox worked as a teacher at the Indian Industrial School of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, from 1893 to 1902. In 1902 she was promoted to Principal of the Indian Industrial School, a position she held until 1907. During her tenure there, Bowersox called herself the “acting principal” of the school, a title contrary to her actual post. In 1907 she was invited to take assume the role of Berea College’s Dean of Women. She remained the Dean of Women of Berea College for 32 years.
Dean of Women of Berea College
Bowersox championed a number of changes throughout campus that she deemed necessary for the good will and health of women students and faculty. During her tenure, Bowersox oversaw the creation of the Log House, the installation of ovens in women’s dormitories, and improved opportunities for female student labor. She strongly supported growth in physical education for women. She also established “week-end houses,” where women students and faculty could relax with little male interruption. She enforced a dress code for women that caused her considerable pains to perfect.
Bowersox’s power as Dean of Women fell short of male Deans, who were considered the final authorities in matters of student discipline, behavior, and daily life. But her position gave her the power to appeal to and suggest changes and disciplinary measures, and she often stayed on campus several weeks into the summer to help approve curriculum. The latter duty she considered extraneous; she reported to President Frost that her “work is with the students and not with the schedules.”
After retiring from the post of Dean of Women of Berea College, Bowersox moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she shared a winter home with her friend and colleague, Mary Elizabeth Welsh. She continued to visit Berea for homecoming receptions and award ceremonies. Her brother, Rollin, followed her through the latter part of her professional career. He took a position as assistant superintendent of Garden, Cannery and Grounds in 1927, and he moved with Katharine to St. Petersburg, Florida after her retirement from Berea College in 1939.
Katharine Bowersox died at age 92, on December 24, 1961, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Katharine Bowersox prized physical activity for women as a high priority. She believed that exercise was important to a woman’s health from a very young age. Ms. Bowersox helped set up the first Girls’ Field Day in 1920, and requested that President Frost hire a physical education director for women, as well as erect a gym and recreational grounds. Bowersox was an advocate of the Y.W.C.A. and worked closely with Berea’s Women’s Athletic Committee.
Like her single female colleagues, Bowersox lived in the Ladies’ Hall dormitory, where she was responsible for the maintenance of the dorm facilities and attended to the residents’ complaints. The conflict between her Dean of Women duties and dorm duties was a point of contention for Bowersox, and she readily expressed her frustrations to the administrations of Frost and Hutchins. She requested that members of the female faculty have a time and place where they could have solitude. In a letter to Frost in 1914, Bowersox said: “I could be a nervous wreck and antagonize every girl who approaches me if I do not get off by myself at the close of day,” expressing her need for adequate housing. After years of campaigning for a place for female faculty to socialize on their own, Bowersox oversaw the construction of the Log House in 1924.
Awards- honorary degrees
In June, 1950, Ms. Bowersox was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities by Berea College.
List of Works
A Letter to Berea Girls KB
A Woman in the Making: Address Before Woman’s Club by Miss Bowersox, Dean of Women.