Artemisia Bowden was present at Council in the person of Dr. Antoinette Winstead who portrayed Bowden in a one-woman play on Friday morning. Bowden had been placed on the church Calendar of Liturgical Commemorations by the Episcopal Church General Convention in July 2015.
The ministry of Dr. Bowden stretches back to 1902 when Bishop Steptoe Johnston brought her from North Carolina to take over the fledgling St. Philip’s School in San Antonio. The school had its roots in a sewing class for Black girls begun in 1897 that had been held in the rectory of St. Philip’s Church. Bowden oversaw the continual expansion of the school, seeking to develop and send forth, “true, God-fearing women, who are not ashamed of the truth and whose characters are spotless.”
That single sewing class eventually became an industrial school and then a vocational school. By 1927, Bowden had succeeded in guiding the school to junior college status, and in 1942 St. Philip’s Junior College joined with San Antonio Junior College to constitute the San Antonio Union Junior College District, later renamed the Alamo Community College District.
Bowden devoted her entire life to serving God and assisting the Almighty in raising up worthy Christians. She anticipated success, never failure. “A person who has courage must be full of faith,” she said. “A goal is set for the purpose of achieving it.”
In her portrayal, Winstead as Bowden recalled the difficulties she faced and overcame in her 52 years of educating primarily Black children in San Antonio. “But the Bible says once you set your hand to the plow you can’t look back, and I never did,” she said. She spoke of enduring “insults and threats” as she sought to better the lives of young black women, a journey in which she always saw “God’s providential hand.”
The school often faced financial difficulties, especially during the Depression, and Bowden sometimes turned back her own salary so her teachers could be paid.
Following her presentation, Winstead, who teaches at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, said what most impressed her about Bowden was her faith and her diligence. “And I preach that to my students,” she said.
Dr. Adena Loston, the current president of St. Philip’s College, also addressed Council, reporting that St. Philip’s now enrolls 12,000-plus students yearly in a variety of degree programs, many in vocational areas. The school graduates the largest number of licensed vocational nurses of any college in the state.
At St. Philip’s, Artemisia Bowden is known as “the savior of St. Philip’s,” and has been given the status of President Emeritus.