Chester Bowles

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Chester Bowles
Chester Bowles (Connecticut Governor and Congressman).jpg
3rd and 8th United States Ambassador to India
In office
July 19, 1963 – April 21, 1969
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded byJohn Kenneth Galbraith
Succeeded byKenneth B. Keating
In office
October 10, 1951 – March 21, 1953
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byLoy W. Henderson
Succeeded byGeorge V. Allen
22nd Under Secretary of State
In office
January 25 – December 3, 1961
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Preceded byC. Douglas Dillon
Succeeded byGeorge W. Ball
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1959 – January 3, 1961
Preceded byHorace Seely-Brown
Succeeded byHorace Seely-Brown
78th Governor of Connecticut
In office
January 5, 1949 – January 3, 1951
LieutenantWilliam T. Carroll
Preceded byJames C. Shannon
Succeeded byJohn Davis Lodge
Personal details
Chester Bliss Bowles

(1901-04-05)April 5, 1901
Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedMay 25, 1986(1986-05-25) (aged 85)
Essex, Connecticut, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
  • Julia Fisk
    (m. 1925; div. 1933)
  • Dorothy Stebbins (m. 1934)
Children5, including Sam
EducationYale University

Chester Bliss Bowles (April 5, 1901 – May 25, 1986) was an American diplomat and ambassador, Governor of Connecticut, Congressman and co-founder of a major advertising agency, Benton & Bowles, now part of Publicis Groupe.

Education and early career[edit]

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Charles Allen Bowles and Nellie Seaver (Harris) Bowles, Chester Bowles attended The Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford, Connecticut, graduating in 1919. He matriculated at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1924.

After working after graduation as a reporter for the newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts owned by his family, Bowles took a minor position with the United States consulate in Shanghai, but soon returned to the U.S. because of his father's illness.

Advertising career success[edit]

Bowles became a copywriter for $25 per week at the Batten Company, an advertising agency in New York City that later became BBDO, the third-largest agency in the US.

In 1929, Bowles established the Benton & Bowles advertising agency with William Benton, who was a fellow Batten employee. Despite the difficult economic environment of Great Depression, by the mid-1930s Benton & Bowles was a multimillion-dollar company. Benton & Bowles created the radio soap opera, offering specialized programming to receptive demographic groups. This allowed Benton & Bowles to create advertising campaigns to promote their clients' products to this targeted radio audience.

The New York Times referred to Bowles' career as an advertising executive as "brilliant".[1] He and his business partner, Mr. Benton, signed major U.S. companies as advertising clients for Benton & Bowles, including General Foods, Procter & Gamble and Bristol Myers.

Bowles was appointed chairman of the board in 1936. By 1941, the company reportedly earned an annual profit of more than $250,000. Bowles sold his shares in Benton & Bowles for a substantial profit. He became a multi-millionaire who retired the first time by age 40.

Because of his strong support for the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt Administration, Bowles worked closely with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on several key policy initiatives and programs, while continuing his work at Benton & Bowles.[2]

Career during World War II[edit]

Initially, Bowles was opposed to the United States getting involved in World War II and joined an opposition group, the America First Committee. Later, he said he was embarrassed by his views, and he soon became a supporter of U.S. involvement in the war.

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, he attempted to join the Navy. Bowles was rejected because of an earlier injury to his ear.

Bowles then took a job as the state of Connecticut's rationing administrator in 1942. He becoming state director of price administration later that year, and then general manager. He was appointed by President Roosevelt in 1943 as administrator of the Office of Price Administration and served in that position until 1946. He served as a member of the War Production Board and the Petroleum Board for War.[3]

Diplomatic and political career[edit]

In 1946, he was appointed director of the Office of Economic Stabilization and became chairman of the Economic Stabilization Board for President Harry S. Truman.

Bowles ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Connecticut that year.

Also in 1946, he became one of the American delegates to the first conference of United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO in Paris.[3]

Bowles served as special assistant to UN Secretary General Trygve Lie in 1947 and 1948. During these years, the UN General Assembly met in session at Lake Success, New York on Long Island, as the UN building in Manhattan was not completed until 1952.[4]

He continued with the United Nations as international chairman of the United Nations Children's Appeal from 1948 to 1951.

Bowles was elected to the governorship of Connecticut in 1948, defeating James C. Shannon, and served one term, during which time he signed into law an end to segregation in the state national guard. During his term, Bowles was also active in improving education, mental health, housing and workmen's compensation. His liberal views and policies while governor are attributed by most as the primary reason he lost his re-election bid in 1950.

He was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to India and Nepal by President Truman, serving from 1951 to 1953.

Bowles ran for and won a seat in the House of Representatives for Connecticut's second district and served one term, from January 3, 1959, to January 3, 1961.[3] He lost a bitter re-election campaign to John Davis Lodge, during which his opponent painted him as an extreme liberal.

Bowles at his 1961 swearing in as President Kennedy's Special Representative.

Bowles was selected in 1960 as a foreign policy adviser to Senator John F. Kennedy during Kennedy's campaign for president of the US. Bowles served as chairman of the platform committee for the Democratic National Convention that year in Los Angeles, California.

President Kennedy appointed Bowles to the post of Under Secretary of State in 1961.

That November, Bowles was removed as a consequence of the perception in the Kennedy Administration that he failed to carry out key duties as an administrator in the Department of State, and because he leaked his opposition to the Bay of Pigs Invasion. His removal was made part of a broader bureaucratic reshuffle, which became known as the "Thanksgiving Day Massacre". In early December 1961, he was replaced by George Ball as Under Secretary.

In December 1961, Bowles was named President Kennedy's Special Representative and Adviser on African, Asian, and Latin American Affairs, and Ambassador at Large. Ostensibly this new position was a promotion, but this job was recognized by most experts involved at the time (and by historians in later years) as a demotion designed to reduce public embarrassment for Bowles and the Administration regarding Bowles's removal from the Under Secretary position.

Bowles was made Ambassador to India for the second time on July 19, 1963. He continued in this position through the remainder of Kennedy's Presidency, and for the duration of Lyndon B. Johnson's Administration.

Bowles was a passionate advocate for stronger relations between the United States and India. He enjoyed good relations with India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Bowles strongly believed that the United States and India shared fundamental democratic values.

In March 1967, Bowles was formally petitioned for political asylum by Svetlana Alliluyeva, a writer and the only daughter of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, which was granted. Bowles arranged for her to leave India immediately on a middle-of-the-night flight to Rome. She traveled to Switzerland and eventually on to the U.S., where she died in 2011.

Bowles completed his service as Ambassador to India on April 21, 1969, during the early days of the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Political beliefs and their promotion[edit]

Chester Bowles was well known for his oft-repeated phrase, that he always had "a feeling for the people's side." He said that his grandfather and great-grandfather also used that phrase in their careers in journalism as newspaper owners.[1] Bowles showed expertise in stagecraft, public relations and promotion, both during his career in advertising, and throughout his work as a diplomat, elected official and appointed official. For many years he was a successful author and lecturer, giving him platforms to promote his beliefs and views of politics, policy and the quest for peace.

Early on, while a student at Yale College, his goal was to join the United States foreign service to become a career diplomat. Even while a business executive in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, he fostered a keen, growing interest in domestic issues, international issues, and a wide array of other political issues of the day. With the election of Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency in 1932, Bowles saw in the New Deal policies many ideas and concepts that he liked and would promote for decades.[1]

Because of the strength and wealth of the United States, Bowles believed that it was essential for America to further develop vigorous, sizable foreign aid programs to a large number of countries.

Bowles was a long-time advocate for peace. Because of that deep-rooted sense that peace was vital to survival and happiness of the world's population, Bowles was opposed to the Vietnam War and to the involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia.

European reconstruction was vital, he believed, after the massive devastation of World War II. That devastation was due in no small measure to the bombing and other military activities conducted by the US and its Allies over the years of conflict in Europe, in his view. Bowles understood that the Nazi regime of Germany -- and others in Axis alliance -- needed to be defeated. Yet that meant destruction of buildings, infrastructure, deaths of civilians. Shortly after the war, Bowles saw the hampered abilities of the countries to produce food, clothe their people, provide education, sanitation and health care. Jobs were scarce and opportunities were limited for most people. Yet he was convinced that after the war the United States had a moral obligation to assist with the re-building of affected countries and with meeting the humanitarian needs of the affected people.

Civil rights was of paramount importance to Chester Bowles. As a white liberal from the Northeast, he used various tools to foment change that encouraged the independence, freedom and equality for African-Americans and other minorities, supporting changes in the laws advocating for enlightened judicial decisions affecting civil rights. He wrote articles and books that promoted civil rights and agitation for change and improvement, including in a book entitled "What Negroes Can Learn from Gandhi" published in 1958. He advanced these rights by supporting various government programs and private philanthropic initiatives.

Personal life[edit]

Bowles had two children (Chester and Barbara) with his first wife, the former Julia Fisk. He was married to Fisk in 1925. They divorced in 1933.

Bowles had three children (Cynthia, Sally, and Sam) with his second wife, the former Dorothy Stebbens. He married Stebbens in 1934.[5] Daughter Sally Bowles continued her father's tradition of public service,[6] Chester Jr. is an architect, and Samuel Bowles is a well-known economist.

A public housing project in northwest Hartford, Connecticut, Bowles Park, is named in Bowles's honor. Connecticut Route 9 between Old Saybrook and Cromwell is also designated as the Chester Bowles Highway.


Bowles died at the age of 85, on May 25, 1986, in Essex, Connecticut. He had Parkinson's disease for 22 years (diagnosed when he was Ambassador to India). He also had a cerebrovascular accident (a stroke) the week prior to his death.[1] He is buried there in River View Cemetery.


  • Tomorrow Without Fear (1946)
  • Ambassador's Report (1954)
  • The New Dimensions of Peace (1955)
  • Africa's Challenge to America (1956)
  • What Negroes Can Learn From Gandhi (1958)
  • Ideas, People, and Peace (1958)
  • The Coming Political Breakthrough (1959)
  • The Conscience of a Liberal (1962)
  • The Makings of a Just Society (1963)
  • Promises to Keep: My Years in Public Life (1971)


  • Howard B. Schaffer, Chester Bowles: New Dealer in the Cold War, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993

External links[edit]

  • United States Congress. "Chester Bowles (id: B000699)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  • A film clip "Longines Chronoscope with Chester Bowles" is available at the Internet Archive
  • A film clip "Longines Chronoscope with Chester Bowles" is available at the Internet Archive
  • Newspaper clippings about Chester Bowles in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)


  1. ^ a b c d Krebs, Albin (May 26, 1986). "Chester Bowles Is Dead at 85; Served in 4 Administrations". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Pederson, William D. (2006). The FDR Years. Presidential Profiles. Facts on File, Inc. p. 27.
  3. ^ a b c Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. "BOWLES, Chester Bliss, (1901 - 1986)".
  4. ^
  5. ^ Schaffer, Howard B., Chester Bowles: New Dealer in the Cold War, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 13.
  6. ^ Hamilton, Anne M. (July 31, 2011). "Extraordinary Life: Sally Bowles, 73, of Essex, died June 11". Hartford Courant.
Political offices
Preceded by
James C. Shannon
Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
John Davis Lodge
Preceded by
C. Douglas Dillon
Under Secretary of State
Succeeded by
George Ball
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Horace Seely-Brown
United States Representative for the 2nd Congressional District of Connecticut
Succeeded by
Horace Seely-Brown
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Loy W. Henderson
United States Ambassador to India
Succeeded by
George V. Allen
Preceded by
John Kenneth Galbraith
United States Ambassador to India
Succeeded by
Kenneth Keating