Editor’s Note: A $1,000 legacy from Ellen Canavan Bowe‘s mother, Ann Hughes, made a big difference after her husband, John Joseph Bowe died in 1910 and left his widow with little means to raise their three young children. Her children were my uncle Augustine Joseph Bowe, my father William John Bowe, Sr., and my aunt Anna Regis Bowe (Walters).
In 1965, I had two separate days chauffeuring my uncle and aunt Gus and Julia Lecour Bowe about while we took in sights of interest first in Chicago, and later in Paris when we happened to be there at the same time.
I had been increasingly interested in talking to them both about the Bowe family in earlier years and, in particular, about how my grandmother Ellen Canavan Bowe had successfully brought up her children to become respected and successful adults.
With Gus and Julia both game, one Saturday in Chicago we piled into my 1964 Volkswagen Beetle and set out on a journey following the migration of the widowed Ellen Canavan Bowe and her children from abject poverty on Chicago’s West Side, to Streeterville, and finally back to where we had started, 1120 Lake Shore Drive, an 18-story apartment building on the prosperous Near North Side.
When the building was built in 1926 by Baird & Warner, Gus and Bill Bowe purchased apartment 4D, a three-bedroom duplex apartment on the west elevator tier. Gus and Bill, their sister Anna and mother, Ellen Canavan Bowe, all moved in. A short time later, when Julia married Gus, in she moved as well. When my father Bill subsequently married my mother, Mary Gwinn Bowe in 1928, they moved into an different apartment on the east elevator tier. As a result, I grew up in apartment 4B, just two elevator rides away from Gus and Julia and their two children, John Edward Bowe and Julie Ann Bowe (Thompson).
That day back in 1965, Gus, Julia and I saw 1239 North Ashland Avenue, where Gus and Bill had been born, 2421 West Superior Street, where my their sister Anna were born, their homes at 2852 West Fulton Street and 2946 West Walnut Street (around the corner from Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Francisco Terrace Apartments).
The 3220 West Fulton Street house was bought in 1910 with a $1,000 legacy Ellen Bowe received from the estate sale of the farm her mother (Ann Hughes Canavan) had inherited when her husband, Anthony Canavan died. Then it was on to a ten-room apartment at 3240 West Washington Boulevard. Each home had been progressively better than the last, particularly the 227 East Delaware Place apartment building in Streeterville, built in the early 1920s.
By the time we arrived ack at 1120 Lake Shore Drive, I had had quite an education as to how my grandmother Ellen Bowe had overcome her dire straits and raised three children as a single mother after she was left widowed with meager resources. The lesson was simple: work like hell, get the best education you can for the kids and pray to beat the band. Also, as it turned out, it didn’t hurt that the next to the last child of Anthony Canavan and Ann Hughes quickly developed an entrepreneurial bent out of necessity. Learning its value the hard way, she sold life insurance to other Irish immigrants in Chicago. I wouldn’t gainsay the role her prayers played either. The upshot was she had gotten her children a first rate education at St. Ignatius and Loyola, they were bright and they inherited her work ethic.
As Gus, Bill and Anna came to prosper in time, they loved and dutifully cared for their mother and were able to support her in a style that amply rewarded her extraordinary efforts raising them. Ellen Canavan Bowe died in 1943 and Julia finally had a home life apart from her mother-in-law.
My father died in 1965 and Gus the next year, shortly after my car journey with him and Julia through the Bowe family’s history. Their widows, Julia and Mary Bowe, who had been roommates at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., in the early 1920s, decided to become roommates again. Julia sold 4D and moved into 4B.
After my father’s final illness and my graduation from law school in 1967, I moved out of 1120 to an apartment near the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. Then I enlisted in the Army’ Intelligence Branch for three years and was stationed in Washington, D.C. between 1968 and 1971. But whenever I dropped by 4B from Hyde Park or visited on leave from the Army, it was family time again, with my mother and Julia holding forth as always or, as they would put it, holding the fort.