Money & Careers

A Woman Who Made a Difference: Illinois State Sen. Evelyn Bowles

EvelynBowles94After three decades in elective office, former Illinois State Sen. Evelyn Bowles, pictured here at 94, had many accomplishments to look back on in retirement.  (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Robbins)

Neither a resume nor an obituary can capture the lasting impact of the dynamic Evelyn Bowles, a woman whose life was devoted to public service in Southern Illinois and who blazed a trail — especially for women— in the political arena and in life.

Miss Bowles, as she was known to those outside her large circle of friends, died on April 8 at the age of 94. Her accomplishments are many: being a teacher, serving in the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, serving five terms as Madison County clerk and two terms in the Illinois State Senate. But her interactions with individuals — sharing her intelligence, her patience, her kindness and her optimism — are what may be her true legacy.

I first met Miss Bowles in 1979, when I was a young, dumb reporter for the Edwardsville Intelligencer, based in the county seat of Madison County. I had moved to Edwardsville after having a whole six months of reporting experience in Texas. I thought I knew the ins and outs of county government, and I marched into the county clerk’s office, introduced myself and said I wanted to see the records for the county courts. Miss Bowles, who was in her second term as county clerk and had worked in the office since 1951, patiently explained to me that in Illinois (unlike Texas) the court records were kept in the circuit clerk’s office and gave me directions on where it was located in the courthouse. This was the first of many lessons I learned from Miss Bowles.

Despite the clumsiness of the way I introduced myself to Miss Bowles, she became a friend and a mentor to me — as she did for many people.

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Miss Bowles did not have an easy path to the office of county clerk. Madison County was known for a sharp-elbows, rough-and-tumble style of politics in which a Democratic machine called the shots, not unlike the way politics worked upstate in Chicago. (Republicans were not much of a factor in the county.)

In 1951, Miss Bowles, who was a teacher at the time, took a summer job in the county clerk’s office as a typist. At the end of the summer, County Clerk Eulalia “Uke” Hotz offered her a full-time job.

“It paid $200 a year more than the job I had, so I took it,” Miss Bowles told the Belleville News-Democrat in 2001. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of every year of every job I’ve had.”

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  • Ann Ness April 19, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Carla, you may have been a young reporter, but you were never, ever a dumb one.

    I loved your tribute.