Ruth Bryan Owen

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Ruth Baird Owen (Bryan)

Also Known As: "Ruth", "Bryan", "Owen", "Rohde", "Leavitt"
Birthdate: (68)
Birthplace: Jacksonville, IL, United States
Death: July 26, 1954 (68)
København, Hovedstaden, Danmark
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Jennings Bryan "The Great Commoner", U.S. Secretary of State and Mary Elizabeth Bryan
Wife of Reginald Altham Owen and Capt. Børge Rohde
Ex-wife of William Homer Leavitt
Mother of Reginald B. Owen; Helen Rudd Owen Brown; John Bryan Leavitt; Ruth "Kitty" Meeker and Private

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Ruth Bryan Owen

Ruth Bryan Owen (October 2, 1885 – July 26, 1954) was the daughter of William Jennings Bryan and mother of Helen Rudd Brown. A Democrat, in 1929 she became Florida’s (and the South's) first woman representative in the United States Congress, coming from Florida’s 4th district. Representative Owen was also the first woman to earn a spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In 1933, she became the first woman ever appointed as a U.S. Ambassador when President Roosevelt appointed her as U.S. Ambassador to Denmark.

Personal Life:

In 1903 Ruth Bryan dropped out of the University of Nebraska to marry William H. Leavitt, a well-known Newport, Rhode Island, portrait painter, who was painting Bryan's father's portrait when the couple met. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1909. She married Reginald Owen, a British Army officer in 1910, bearing two more children. Her second husband died in 1928. She spent three years in Oracabessa, Jamaica, where she oversaw the design and construction of her home, Golden Clouds, which is now operated as a luxury villa. She detailed her time in Jamaica and experiences at Golden Clouds in vivid detail in her book, Caribbean Caravel.

Public LIfe:

During World War I, she served as a war nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment in the Egypt-Palestine campaign, 1915-1918. From 1925 to 1928, she was an administrator at the University of Miami.

Owen first ran for office in 1926 for the Democratic nomination for Florida's Fourth Congressional District, losing by fewer than 800 votes. Two years later, after the death of her husband, she ran again. She was elected to Congress (March 4, 1929-March 3, 1933) while a widow and mother of four. Her election was contested on the grounds that she lost her citizenship on her marriage to an alien. By the Cable Act in 1922, she could petition for her citizenship, which she only did in 1925, less than the seven years required by the Constitution. She argued her case before the House Committee on Elections that no American man had ever lost his citizenship by marriage; therefore, Owen argued she lost her citizenship because she was a woman, not because of her marital status. The U.S. House voted in her favor. Although Owen won again in 1930, she was defeated for renomination in 1932 by a candidate advocating the repeal of the unpopular Eighteenth Amendment.

First U S Woman Ambassador:

From 1933 to 1936 she was U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She served successfully until 1936 when she married Borge Rohde, a Danish Captain of the King's Guard, in July. This gave her dual citizenship as a Dane, so she resigned her post in September.

She was also a delegate to the San Francisco Conference which established the United Nations after World War II. In 1948, President Truman named her an alternate delegate to the U.N. General Assembly.

She died July 26, 1954 in Copenhagen, Denmark and was cremated. Her ashes were interred at Ordrup Cemetery, Copenhagen.

Published work


In 1939, Ruth Bryan Owen and her husband, Borge Rohde, purchased "The Cedars," located at Alderson, West Virginia, and began making repairs. They sold the property in 1945. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

In 1992, she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Ruth Bryan Owen's Timeline

October 2, 1885
Jacksonville, IL, United States
Age 18
Age 28
January 2, 1943
Age 57
July 26, 1954
Age 68
København, Hovedstaden, Danmark