Claude Bowers: Historian and Ambassador from Westfield

Of the two notable people from Westfield, Indiana, Claude Bowers is the famous one, rather than the infamous Herb Baumeister. Bowers, a renowned historian, journalist, and diplomat, wrote over a dozen books, several scholarly studies, was a United States ambassador to two different countries, and worked at several newspapers across the nation. Though today he is relatively unknown, he was one of the top orators of his time, culminating in a rousing speech at the 1928 Democratic National Convention. Also an able historian, his many books of history were enormously popular, including the best selling Jefferson and Hamilton; the Struggle for Democracy in America, and many of them are still highly regarded today. Claude Bowers is a resident who gives Westfield a good name in history.

The son of a merchant, Claude Bowers was born in November of 1878 in Westfield, Indiana. Though born in Westfield, Bowers was educated in Indianapolis at Shortridge High School (coincidentally the same Indianapolis school that Kurt Vonnegut attended). After a period as a lawyer, Bowers was asked to join the ranks of the Indianapolis Sentinel (an Indianapolis newspaper in circulation at the time); he was at the Sentinel from 1901 to 1903, when he became an editor at the Terre Haute Star in Terre Haute, Indiana. Politics led Bowers away from the journalism industry for several years as he twice ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1904 and in 1906, losing both times. Bowers would serve on the Terre Haute Board of Public Works for five years and spend another six serving as secretary to a United States senator before returning to journalism. Claude Bowers began his professional writing career during his thirteen year foray into politics; his first two books, Irish Orators and The Life of J. Worth Kern, were written in this period.

Bowers returned to newspapers in 1917, this time in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he was the editor of the Journal-Gazette. By 1923, Bowers was working for the New York World, and he wrote a political column in the New York Journal for another two years after World closed its doors. However, Bowers’ political history, writing prowess, and skills as an impassioned orator would lead to his appointment as ambassador and allow him to take a place on the world stage. During his return to journalism, Claude Bowers never neglected his biographical writing career. His two best sellers, Party Battles of the Jackson Period and Jefferson and Hamilton; The Struggle for Democracy in America, were written during Bowers’ time in New York. The books were politically charged clarion calls for the Democratic Party, earning him a spot as the keynote speaker for the 1928 Democratic National Convention; he spoke again in the 1932 convention.

In 1933, Claude Bowers was appointed the United States Ambassador to Spain, a country that was undergoing a civil war at the time. Bowers acted as a benevolent diplomat while in Spain; he was instrumental in freeing volunteer Americans from prison, raising money for orphaned Spanish children, and evacuating American nationals trapped in the country. He would later write about the experience in My Mission to Spain, a book that chronicled the turmoil of the time and Bowers’ role in it. When he resigned from his Spanish post in 1939, Bowers was assigned an ambassador to Chile, where he served until his retirement in 1953.

Five years after his retirement, Claude Bowers passed away of leukemia and was buried in Terre Haute, Indiana. Bowers continued to publish books throughout his career, resulting in fourteen historical texts that made the past seem personal. The Tragic Era, Jefferson i n Power, and The Young Jefferson all came from his pen, earning him positions as ambassador to Spain and Chile. A number of awards and honors were conferred on this famous Westfield person throughout his life, including a Jefferson Medal from the University of Virginia in 1926, a Chilean Order of Merit in 1939, a United States Order of Freedom, and honorary degrees from Indiana University, Tufts University, the University of Notre Dame, and several more. A gifted writer, orator, and statesman, Claude Bowers will long be remembered in Westfield.

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