St. Philip’s College founder elevated from savior to saint

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Artemisia Bowden. Courtesy

Artemisia Bowden. Courtesy

SPC will host a reception in celebration of Artemisia Bowden.

By Alyssa Zapata

Artemisia Bowden rose against all odds to fight for education and raised St. Philip’s College above expectations to answer the call of God.

This year the Episcopal Church has added Artemisia Bowden into “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints.”

“She was a young lady who was requested by Bishop James Johnson to help a Saturday evening sewing class,” said Dr. Adena Williams Loston, president of St. Philip’s College.

“When God calls, we must answer and that is what Artemisia Bowden displayed,” the Rev. Patricia Riggins of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church said.

With the weight of the Great Depression, Bowden did not give up and thought of different ways to keep the school afloat, Loston said.

Bowden galvanized students to sing, family members to work alongside her and barter chickens, eggs, pigs and produce to generate income during the Great Depression, because the church could no longer provide financial support.

St. Philip’s then fell under San Antonio Independent School District for the financial responsibility.

Bowden argued with the city to allow St. Philip’s to be a public junior college for African Americans.

In 1942, the city added St. Philip’s to the junior college system alongside this college, Loston said.

“Once she took the helm, we grew from a Saturday night sewing class to an accredited junior college,” Loston said. “She wasn’t married to anyone because she was married to the school.”

Bowden’s goal was to continuously provide opportunities for African Americans in San Antonio.

Her personal motto was, “Learn to do something and do it well.”

Becoming founder and principal of St. Philip’s was not enough for Bowden. She went on to become president of the San Antonio Metropolitan Council of Negro Women and founder and president of the city’s Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club.

“Her mission was greater than her title,” Loston said.

For the Episcopal Church, Bowden displayed great service to her community and faced many obstacles, but never lost her faith, Riggins said.

“She was a role model, iconic figure and a person who never strayed from their values … I don’t have to look far for a role model,” Loston said.

Bowden served 52 years with St. Philip’s, 25 years as principal, 15 years as president and 12 years as dean.

St. Philip’s will host a reception to celebrate the new saint at 6 p.m. Nov. 20 on the third floor of Bowden Alumni Center.

“It will be a grand ceremony to pay tribute to a Saint,” Loston said. During the reception members will recognize her life journey, revisit highlights of the college and perform a short play about the life of Bowden.

“She’s a role model on how to live our lives so someday we hope to meet her,” Loston said.



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