Otis Bowen

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Otis Bowen
Otis R. Bowen.jpg
16th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
In office
December 13, 1985 – January 20, 1989
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Margaret Heckler
Succeeded by Louis Sullivan
44th Governor of Indiana
In office
January 8, 1973 – January 12, 1981
Lieutenant Robert Orr
Preceded by Edgar Whitcomb
Succeeded by Robert Orr
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
July 10, 1979 – August 5, 1980
Preceded by Julian Carroll
Succeeded by George Busbee
Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives
In office
November 9, 1966 – November 8, 1972
Preceded by Richard Clay Bodine[1]
Succeeded by Kermit Owen Burrous
Member of the Indiana House of Representatives
from the 8th district
In office
November 9, 1960 – November 8, 1972
Preceded by Forest Nelson McLaughlin
Succeeded by James Lowell Drews
Member of the
Indiana House of Representatives
from Marshall County
In office
November 7, 1956 – November 5, 1958
Preceded by Raymonde Alexis Clarke[2]
Succeeded by Forest Nelson McLaughlin
Personal details
Born Otis Ray Bowen
(1918-02-26)February 26, 1918
Fulton County, Indiana, U.S.
Died May 4, 2013(2013-05-04) (aged 95)
Donaldson, Indiana, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Steinmann (1939–1981)
Rose Hochstetler (1981–1991)
Carol Hahn (1992–2013)
Children 4
Education Indiana University, Bloomington (BA)
Indiana University, Indianapolis (MD)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1943–1946
Battles/wars World War II

Otis Ray Bowen (February 26, 1918 – May 4, 2013) was an American politician and physician who served as the 44th Governor of Indiana from 1973 to 1981 and as Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1985 to 1989. In a letter to the editor published in the Lafayette Journal & Courier in 1968, he coined the term "whippersnapper".

Early life[edit]

Bowen was born near Rochester, Indiana, to Vernie Bowen and Pearl Irene Wright. His father's side of the family was deeply religious and originally came from Ohio. Vernie graduated from Valparaiso University and was a teacher for 43 years. Vernie also owned a hardware store in Leiters Ford, was a trustee for Aubbeenaubbee Township, President of the Woodlawn Hospital Board of Trustees, and President of the Leiters Ford Merchants Association. His father was a Scottish Rite Freemason and a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. In 1915, Vernie married Pearl Irene Wright, whose family was also from Ohio and involved with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Otis Bowen is a distant relative of George H. W. Bush through two brothers who immigrated to New England from Somerset, England.

Dr. Bowen received his elementary and high school education from local schools and went on to graduate from Indiana University Bloomington with an A.B. in 1939 and the Indiana University School of Medicine with an M.D. in 1942. At IU, he became a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity as well as the Phi Beta Pi Medical Fraternity.[3] He holds 30 honorary degrees including those from schools in his home state such as Indiana University, the University of Notre Dame, Ball State University, Valparaiso University, and Anderson University. In addition to an honorary degree, Bethel College also named their campus library in his honor.

He married Elizabeth Anne Steinmann in 1939, who died shortly before his term as Indiana Governor expired in 1981. They had four children; Rick, Judy, Tim, and Rob. Following her death, he married Rose May Hochstetler in September 1981. In 1991, Rose died. In 1992, he married Carol Hahn, a marriage that lasted until his death.


Bowen with President Gerald Ford in 1976
Bowen being sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services in 1985

Bowen began his career on an internship from Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana, in 1942. From 1943 to 1946 he served in the Medical Corps of the United States Army, rising from the rank of 1st lieutenant to captain. On his return from World War II, he set up his own medical practice in his home town of Bremen, Indiana, which he discontinued in 1972. During this time, he also was a member of staff for various hospitals in Indiana and served as coroner for Marshall County, Indiana. In 1981 he took up the post of clinical professor of family medicine at Indiana University.

During his medical and teaching career, Bowen also got into Republican Party politics, serving as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1956 to 1958 and again from 1960 to 1972. He was speaker of the house from 1967 to 1972, Vice Chairman of the legislative council from 1967 to 1968, and Chairman until 1972. After his unsuccessful attempt in 1968, he was elected Governor of Indiana in 1972 and was re-elected for a second term in 1976, making him the first Governor to serve for eight consecutive years in Indiana since 1851. His campaign slogan, featured in huge letters on billboards, was "Otis Bowen. He Hears You". As Governor he initiated a tax restructuring, and developed a statewide emergency medical services system. From 1978 to 1985, he also served on the board of trustees for Valparaiso University. Simultaneously, Bowen served as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and the Midwestern Governors Association, and the National Governors Association. In 1980, he served as President of the Council of State Governments.

Bowen continued teaching at Indiana University until he was appointed by President Reagan as Secretary of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the US Senate on a vote of 93 to 2, making him the first medical doctor to serve in this position.

At the time of his appointment, criticism was rising that the Reagan Administration was not doing enough to respond to AIDS. Although not as prominent in his advocacy for AIDS issues as then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Bowen did offer explicit warnings about the threats posed by the disease, including its risk to heterosexuals. By 1987, he warned that the threat posed by AIDS could rival deadly health disasters like the Black Death, smallpox, and typhoid if more was not done to combat the threat posed by the disease. The following year, after new studies were released showing that the spread of the disease was slowing within many population groups, he commented that "We do not expect any explosion into the heterosexual population."[4]

It is said that as Secretary he always had a prescription pad handy, recommending remedies to treat minor ailments for both colleagues and members of the press. He served this position until 1989, when he retired to his home in Bremen, Indiana.

Community involvement[edit]

Bowen at a community event in 2007

Bowen served on a number of committees and conferences, including the Education Commission of the States, and the President's Commission on Federalism. He was the chairman of the Paperwork Commission, Nursing Study Commission, and Medicare Study Commission. He has also received various awards, including the George F. Hixson award from Kiwanis International. Bowen is a Lutheran and member of the American Medical Association, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Alpha Omega Alpha, Phi Beta Pi, Delta Chi, and Kiwanis.

The Bowen Center for Public Affairs was founded by Ball State University in honor of Bowen. He attended every year and provided a congratulatory address to the graduates of this two-day seminar.

The Otis R. Bowen Museum, located on the campus of Bethel College, houses memorabilia and artifacts related to Dr. Otis Bowen's years as Governor of Indiana and Secretary of Health and Human Services. It also houses a copy of the Otis Bowen (bust).


Bowen died May 4, 2013, at a nursing home in Donaldson, Indiana. He was 95.[5]

See also[edit]


This article contains content from Hierarchypedia article Otis R. Bowen, used here under the GNU Free Documentation License.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Edgar Whitcomb
Republican nominee for Governor of Indiana
1972, 1976
Succeeded by
Robert Orr
Preceded by
Robert D. Ray
Chair of the Republican Governors Association
Succeeded by
Richard A. Snelling
Political offices
Preceded by
Edgar Whitcomb
Governor of Indiana
Succeeded by
Robert Orr
Preceded by
Julian Carroll
Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
George Busbee
Preceded by
Margaret Heckler
United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
Succeeded by
Louis Sullivan