Catherine Drinker Bowen

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Catherine Drinker Bowen

Catherine Drinker Bowen (January 1, 1897 in Haverford, PA – November 1, 1973 in Haverford) was an American writer best known for her biographies. She won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1958.


Bowen was born Catherine Drinker on the Haverford College campus on January 1, 1897, to a prominent Quaker family. She was an accomplished violinist who studied for a musical career at the Peabody Institute and the Juilliard School of Music, but ultimately decided to become a writer. She had no formal writing education and no academic career, but became a bestselling American biographer and writer despite criticism from academics. Her earliest biographies were about musicians. Bowen did all her own research, without hiring research assistants, and sometimes took the controversial step of interviewing subjects without taking notes.

In 1958 she won the U.S. National Book Award for Nonfiction[1] for The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), a biography of the prominent lawyer of Elizabethan England. In addition, Ms. Bowen received the 1957 Philadelphia Award and the 1962 Women's National Book Association award. Her last book, Family Portrait, received critical acclaim, and was a Literary Guild selection. During her lifetime, she was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Philadelphia Award.

At the time of Bowen's death in 1973, she was working on a biography of Benjamin Franklin; the unfinished book was published posthumously as Scenes from the Life of its subject. She is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.


Catherine Drinker married Ezra Bowen, the Chair of Economics at Lehigh University and author of "Social Economics." She was survived by a daughter, Catherine Prince; a son, Ezra Bowen, the Sports Illustrated and Time-Life writer and editor; and grandsons Ezra D. and Matthew Bowen.

Catherine was the daughter of Henry Sturgis Drinker, who became president of Lehigh University. She had four brothers, Henry ("Harry"), an attorney who lent his name to Philadelphia's Drinker, Biddle law firm,[2] and who was also a chamber music composer and conductor; Jim; Cecil, the founder of the Harvard School of Public Health; and Philip, inventor of the iron lung; and a sister, Ernesta.


  • Beloved Friend: The Story of Tchaikowsky and Nadejda Von Meck (1937)
  • Free artist: The story of Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein (1939)
  • Yankee from Olympus: Justice Holmes and His Family (1944)
  • The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke (1957)
  • Adventures of a Biographer (1959)
  • Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man (1963)
  • Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787 (1966), which is #54 on list of books in the most number of American Libraries. [1]
  • John Adams and the American Revolution
  • Bernard DeVoto: Historian, critic, and fighter
  • The Most Dangerous Man in America: Scenes from the Life of Benjamin Franklin
  • Family Portrait
  • Story of the oak tree
  • Lord of the law
  • A History of Lehigh University
  • Biography: The Craft and the Calling (1968)
  • The writing of biography

Other writings[edit]

"Friends and Fiddlers" (1935). The Chamber Music Journal, 21(1),6(2010)

"Rufus Starbuck's Wife" (1932)


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1958". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
    (With acceptance speech by Drinker Bowen.)
  2. ^
   Giffuni, Cathe.  "Catherine Drinker Bowen: A Bibliography,"  Bulletin of Bibliography, Vol. 50 No. 4 December 1993, pp. 331–337.

External links[edit]