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Bowes, Euphemia Bridges (1816–1900)

by Heather Radi

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Euphemia Bridges Bowes (1816-1900), wife, mother and social reformer, was born in Edinburgh, daughter of Joseph Allen and his wife Eliza. A houseservant, Euphemia arrived as a bounty migrant in the Fairlie on 6 December 1838; she could read and write. On 13 September 1842 at Parramatta, with Wesleyan Methodist rites, she married John Bowes, a baker. He had reached Sydney in October 1841 and soon moved to Parramatta, where he continued his work as a Wesleyan lay preacher. They apparently lived in Sydney before going to Wollongong about 1848, where he was accepted into the ministry.

Euphemia bore eleven children, eight of whom survived childhood. She and her numerous family moved at three-year intervals as John was appointed to country circuits—Camden, Mudgee, the Turon, Singleton, the Macleay, the Manning, and Mittagong in 1878; he retired to Stanmore in 1880 as supernumerary. Euphemia shared her husband's qualities of 'piety and unobtrusiveness'. Her Bible was always at hand; her work as class leader and visitor to the sick was praised; it was said repeatedly that she was greatly loved.

After the move to Stanmore, Euphemia's talent for organization was soon engaged in founding the first Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Sydney in 1882. She was elected president in 1885, and president also of the subsequent New South Wales union. She represented the Sydney union at the Melbourne congress in 1889. Aided by extensive contacts from the years of her husband's active ministry, she carried the work of setting up other unions to country districts, visiting in 1892, despite increasing age and poor health, Young, Yass, Cootamundra and Goulburn, and next year Bathurst, Dubbo, Newcastle, Maitland and Singleton. Forty-two unions had been formed in New South Wales by 1892 when she expressed a desire to retire, granted by her election as honorary life president in 1893 when the active presidency passed to Mrs Sarah Nolan.

While her major achievement was the creation of a network of unions throughout the colony, she also had some success in restricting licenses and Sunday trading; she campaigned vigorously, but vainly, for local option and the banning of barmaids. Practical measures appealed to her: a soup kitchen at the Mission Church, Sussex Street, and a home for inebriate women, opened in 1892.

In 1886 Euphemia Bowes was one of five good women who, on an appeal from the New South Wales Social Purity Society, formed a ladies' committee. It aimed to promote morality and to secure legislation for the better protection of women, notably the raising of the age of consent from 14 to 18, improvements in the law regarding affiliation, and measures against soliciting, child prostitution and brothels. An early advocate of votes for women, Euphemia secured from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union's 1889 convention a favourable resolution, the creation of its suffrage department in 1890, and its support in 1892 for the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales. Confident of the reforming influence of women's votes, she appealed to other organizations, such as the New South Wales Local Option League, to support the movement.

In his retirement, John Bowes had opened a 'ladies college' in their home, Auburn, at Marrickville, which Euphemia, and more likely her daughters, continued to conduct after his death on 11 October 1891. She died there on 12 November 1900, aged 85, and was buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery. She was survived by three sons and four daughters. Her eldest son, John Wesley Bowes represented Morpeth in the Legislative Assembly in 1887-89, two other sons joined the Methodist ministry, one daughter married Peter Board and another, Eva (Evangeline Grace), continued her mother's work for temperance as corresponding secretary for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of New South Wales in 1912-36.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Ward, Womanhood Suffrage (Syd, nd)
  • Golden Records: Pathfinders of Woman's Christian Temperance Union of New South Wales (Syd, 1926)
  • W.C.T.U., Annual Convention Reports, 1890, 1892-1901
  • Dawn (Sydney), 5 Feb 1890, 1 Nov 1894
  • Weekly Advocate (Sydney), 19 Oct 1878, 17, 31 Oct 1891
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Nov 1900
  • Methodist (Sydney), 17 Nov 1900
  • R. G. Cooper, The Women's Suffrage Movement in New South Wales (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1970)
  • Womanhood Suffrage League, minute book, 1892 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Bowes, Euphemia Bridges (1816–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/bowes-euphemia-bridges-5312/text8969, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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