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American National Biography Online Bowles, Eva Del Vakia (24 Jan. 1875-14 June 1943), secretary for colored work for the Young Women's Christian Association, was born in Albany, Athens County, Ohio, the daughter of John Hawkes Bowles and Mary Jane Porter. Unlike most African Americans born during the American Reconstruction period, Bowles grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her grandfather John R. Bowles served as a chaplain for the all-black Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry and later became the first black teacher hired by the Ohio Public School Fund. Her father was the first black postal clerk in Columbus, Ohio. Eva Bowles was educated in Columbus at a business college and attended summer courses at Ohio State University. After a short teaching career in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia, she was recruited in 1905 to work in New York City as secretary of the Colored YWCA (later affiliated with the New York City YWCA as the 137th Street branch in Harlem). This position made her the "first employed Negro YWCA Secretary in the country." In 1908 she received training in social work at Columbia University School of Philanthropy. In 1913, after a brief return to Columbus, where she worked as a caseworker, Bowles returned to New York as secretary of the newly formed Subcommittee for Colored Work of the YWCA national board. The position had been created in recognition of the fast-growing interest in association work among urban black women. Among Bowles's responsibilities was the delicate task of helping the organization accommodate its black membership without jeopardizing the support of whites. At a time when race separation was supported throughout the nation, this was no small task. At the time of Bowles's appointment, the national board had fourteen local colored affiliates. For the most part, these associations were organized by black club women to provide services similar to those offered by white YWCAs--namely, lodging and club activities for young single women who moved into cities to work. Black women, even though their needs were critical, were routinely excluded from white facilities. Furthermore, although local black and white associations were affiliated with the national board, there was often little communication between the local organizations. Bowles's solution was to create a structure whereby there would be only one YWCA in each city. Because the colored associations were usually smaller and less financially stable, they became branches of the larger, white organization. Although this arrangement made black women accountable to white women, Bowles insisted that the volunteers and staff of the black branches be responsible for day-to-day operations and for fundraising. In addition, she regularly scheduled skills and leadership training opportunities for black volunteers and staff. Bowles believed that integration was inevitable. She felt that this structure would provide a way for the two races to become accustomed to working together and that black women would have the opportunity to prove their administrative and decision-making abilities. World War I offered a unique opportunity for the YWCA when the national board was granted $4 million by the U.S. War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities to work with women and girls on the home front. The War Work Council of the YWCA set aside $200,000 for colored work, and Bowles was made secretary in charge of expanding services to black women. Under this mandate, the association was able to open recreation centers, industrial work centers, and fifteen hostess houses (facilities that provided entertainment for soldiers and sometimes lodging for their families) near army installations. By the end of the war, black women were being served in forty-five cities, and associations had over 39,000 black members. Most notable was the use of funds left over from the war effort to build a much-needed association facility in Washington, D.C., to accommodate the city's growing black population. Bowles's accomplishments during the war so impressed former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) that he designated $4,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize to be dispersed according to her directions. To accomplish this expansion of work during the war, Bowles sought the support of the network of prominent black club women in the National Association of Colored Women. She later used the influence of this group to press the national board for more equitable representation for black women on local and national committees and boards. This move resulted in significant steps toward more biracial cooperation in student and community associations. Furthermore, black women gained their first representative on the national board in 1924. After the war, Bowles concentrated on the improvement of race relations within the national association. As secretary of the Council on Colored Work, she increased the number of black staff employed by the national board to nine at headquarters and three in the field. Under her leadership, the board led other organizations in negotiations to hold nationally sponsored conventions and meetings only in cities that would guarantee that all members, regardless of race, could be accommodated. She also worked tirelessly as an advocate of the international work of the association, especially in Africa and the Caribbean. She became disillusioned with the YWCA, however, and resigned in 1932, charging that a recent reorganization would "diminish participation of Negroes in the policy making of the Association" by dispersing black staff in a way that she felt diminished their effectiveness in behalf of the specific needs of black women. Eva Bowles did not confine her interest in race work to the YWCA. She was an active volunteer in such important organizations as the Urban League, the National Interracial Conference, the American Interracial Peace Committee, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National League of Women Voters, the Commission of Church and Race Relations of the Federal Council of Churches, and her denominational Episcopalian Women's Interracial Council. After her resignation from the YWCA, Bowles worked briefly as an executive of the National Colored Merchants Association, sponsored by the National Business League. Then, after returning to her native Ohio, she served for a brief time as acting secretary of the West End branch of the YWCA of Cincinnati. During the 1940 presidential campaign, she became the Harlem organizer for the Wendell Willkie Republican organization. She died in Richmond, Virginia. Bibliography Information on the work of Eva Bowles can be found on microfilm in the national board YWCA archives under Colored Work, Interracial Work, and War Work Council. Bowles's work during World War I is detailed in Jane Olcott, comp., The Work of Colored Women (1919). Also held by the national board YWCA archives are Juliet O. Bell and Helen Wilkins, "Interracial Practices in Community YWCAs"; "War Work Bulletins," 6 Dec. 1918 and 28 Dec. 1917; Jane Olcott, "The Growth of Our Colored Work," Association Monthly, Nov. 1919, pp. 431-32; and "Eva D. Bowles," Woman's Press, July 1932. Also see YWCA national board personnel files and association records, 1914-1931. Articles written by Bowles are "Negro Women and the Y.W.C.A. of the United States," Women's International Quarterly 9 (Oct. 1919): 20-25; "The Colored Girls in Our Midst," Association Monthly, Dec. 1917; and "The YWCA and Racial Understanding," Woman's Press, Sept. 1929, pp. 622 and 624. No full-length biography exists, but Bowles's work is chronicled in Gladys Gilkey Calkins, "The Negro in the Young Women's Christian Association" (M.A. thesis, George Washington Univ., 1960). Obituaries are in Woman's Press, Sept. 1943, and the Norfolk Journal and Guide, 19 June 1943. Adrienne Lash Jones Citation: Adrienne Lash Jones. "Bowles, Eva Del Vakia"; http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00081.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org.