Family and education
Cowan was born in Maryhill, Glasgow the son of John and Christina Cowan. He was educated at Glasgow Free Church Training College  and Glasgow University. He held MA and LL.B degrees. He never married.
Cowan was a schoolteacher and an expert on the subject of education. He was Headmaster of North Kelvinside Higher Grade School from 1896–1919 and he played a large part in educational activities in Scotland in particular through the Educational Institute of Scotland, but also through Glasgow University and the Corporation of the City of Glasgow as well as other bodies. He authored a number of school text books and wrote articles on educational themes. He was credited with improving educational provision and helping to raise teachers’ salaries  and promoting teachers' pension provision.
Cowan was elected at the 1918 general election as Coalition Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for the Universities of Scotland. This was a three-member seat and Cowan was elected with two Coalition Unioinsts.
The 1924 election was carried under a transferable vote system of proportional representation. The quota required to be elected was 4,405. Craik and Cowan received more than the quota on the first count and were declared elected. The redistribution of their second votes put Berry over the quota and he too was elected.
The 1929 election was carried under the same system of proportional representation. The quota required to be elected was 6,276. John Buchan and Cowan received more than the quota on the first count and were declared elected. The redistribution of their second votes was again enough to put Berry over the quota and he too was re-elected.
At the 1931 general election he was again returned unopposed, with two Conservatives.
Cowan died in office on 30 December 1933, aged 68 years in a Glasgow nursing home, having been unwell for some time and receiving treatment in the home.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Dugald Cowan
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities
With: Sir William Cheyne, to 1922;
Sir Henry Craik, to 1927;
George Berry, 1922–1931;
John Buchan, 1927–1935;
Noel Skelton, 1931–1936
Noel Skelton and
George Morrison and