Obituary: Ann Bowden
Barker, Nicolas, The Independent (London, England)
AUSTIN, TEXAS, is chiefly known outside the state as the site of the University of Texas, and in particular of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. The HRC became world-famous in the 1960s for sweeping up, regardless of expense, the papers and books of contemporary writers, although its collections stretched well beyond the 20th century. In the smaller world of book historians, however, Austin was as well known as the home of Ann Bowden and William B. Todd, a husband-and-wife team of irresistible determination and inexhaustible energy.
Bowden was born in 1924 in East Orange, New Jersey, the daughter of parents of Swedish extraction and Baptist persuasion. She had a strict upbringing, about which she was reticent; few people outside her immediate family knew much of her early life. Somehow, however, she got herself to Boston, and graduated AB from Radcliffe. Either before or after, she spent some time as a firefighter in Boston; she must have been a rarity as such, but it was characteristic of her determination to do good and not to take no for an answer, distinctive qualities all her life.
Then came the Second World War, and she enlisted in the US Marine Corps Women's Reserve, and was trained as a mechanic, repairing aircraft instruments; mending and maintaining machinery was another skill that never left her. She ended the war as a corporal, and soon after she married Edwin Bowden, with whom she had a shared interest in books. She went with him to Cambridge, he with a Fulbright scholarship, and when they returned she went to work at Yale University Library in the manuscript department. During this time she got a second degree in Library Science from Columbia, commuting to New York.
In 1956 she and her husband were courted by Harry Ransom, then Chancellor of the University of Texas, to come to Austin. She found a job in the Austin Public Library, where she was to work for over 30 years, for 20 as associate director. She was famous for her devotion to her readers' interests, keeping the library doors opened during a flood warning when other public buildings shut. She was fascinated by the mechanics of running the library, constantly adjusting the furniture to try and make the place more efficient. She also took a keen interest in new innovations, pioneering in the 1960s a state-wide computer network system. She also contrived to bring up her three children, who fondly remember being driven by her in her MG sports car.
She did not lose touch with the university, where she later taught, vigorously, a bibliography class. …