Dr. Bowen’s legacy is broad and deep. He worked tirelessly to develop a science of human behavior. His
curiosity, observations, research and tenacity produced a way of thinking and being that has produced
maturing and healing for tens of thousands of people and their families. The consistency of his theory
with new findings in science is an affirmation that he was “onto a new way of thinking” that has
the potential to change history.
Dr. Bowen’s legacy extends far beyond his published works. In addition to those, are hundreds of
papers and drafts of papers, pages and pages of correspondence and clinical notes, audio and video
recordings of clinical sessions and presentations and workshops.
Shortly before his death in 1990, Dr. Bowen asked his daughter, Joanne, to be responsible for
securing all of his papers and works - his archives - in the National Library of Medicine. When
Joanne asked him, “what is to go?,” he swept his arm across the office. Without speaking,
he made it very clear that he was giving his legacy to the world. Although it is a
tremendous gift, giving Bowen theory to the world is easier said than done. This is the
work that The Murray Bowen Archives Project has taken on. Our mission is to make Dr.
Bowen’s legacy accessible to the world. It is a complex and long-term task.
The Professional Collection, which resides at the National Library of Medicine, includes
146 boxes of notes, correspondence, presentations, letters, audio and video recordings.
There are clinical notes in the collection, as well as a few notes from internships,
and many notes from patients at Menninger’s and NIMH. Reading Dr. Bowen’s observations
and hearing his thinking — as recorded in his clinical notes — is fascinating,
and offers insights into his work. Because these are clinical notes on real people,
part of the work of processing the collection includes removing identifying information. Once
this is done, these materials will be open to the general public.
There are many professional letters in the collection – to and from colleagues, as well
as patients and patients’ families, and those interested in learning more about Dr.
Dr. Bowen gave many presentations and papers. These were always carefully crafted. By
the time a paper was published or a presentation given, he had made multiple drafts –
refining his writing as well as his way of presenting information to reflect his careful
thinking. One example in the collection is what later became a chapter in Family
Therapy in Clinical Practice: “Family Reaction to Death.” There are several drafts of
this work. As well, there is a “Dear Family” letter written in the days after this
event, in which Dr. Bowen described his response and laid out his initial thinking.
Drafts of presentations and papers
A second group of Dr. Bowen’s materials – the “Williamsburg Collection” – has
not yet been moved to NLM. Currently, its home is in Williamsburg, VA, close to the
home of Joanne Bowen. This collection includes materials from Dr. Bowen’s home
office, as well as the “treasure trove” of boxes of papers found in the attic
of the Bowen home in 2011. Included in these materials were notes from medical school
and Menninger Clinic and many “Dear Family” letters written over the years. In
these letters, it often is possible to hear the theoretical ideas Dr. Bowen
Volunteers have done preliminary work on processing, organizing and digitizing the
collection, which includes over 50 boxes. Once this work is complete, the Williamsburg Collection
will be moved to NLM to join the Professional Collection.
Cards, notes, memorabilia
The Collection includes a rich variety of cards, notes, and memorabilia and personal and professional
Dr. Bowen’s medical bag is filled with items that a home visit might require, including glass
slides, vials, test tubes, and a variety of instruments and medications.
In 1946, when he arrived at Menninger Clinic to begin his psychiatric training, Dr. Bowen
started writing “Dear Family” letters. Into his typewriter would go multiple pieces of thin,
onion-skin paper with carbon paper sandwiched in-between the sheaves. Amongst the
accounts of daily life, work, and what was going on in the community and world are
observations and ruminations on bigger questions and ideas. The “Dear Family” letters contain jewels
of theory, mixed in with mundane conversation about the weather. Before these letters can
be made accessible, some of the personal information will need to be redacted.
Dr. Bowen did extensive research on his own multigenerational family. He traced the Bowen
family back to the arrival of Moses Bowen in the U.S. in 1699, and the Luff family back to
their arrival after the War of 1812. He did not use ancestry.com to do this - rather he
wrote letters, visited cemeteries and registry offices. These two letters are related to
family research in the Sackets Harbor-Watertown area in New York.
Notes from college, medical school and residencies
There are class notes from college and medical school classes at the University of
Tennessee; from internships in New York, and from his time at Menninger Clinic. Dr. Bowen was
part of the very first class of psychiatric students at Menninger’s – the center of
psychoanalytic thinking in the U.S. at that time. In some of his class notes, it is
possible to see hints of thinking and questioning the “given” explanations and treatments of mental
The Williamsburg Collection contains many photographs taken over the years - from early in
Dr. Bowen’s life throughout his career.
This visual record of Dr Bowen's life comprises formal portraits and snapshots of his personal and professional life.
Oral History project
The goal of the Oral History Project, led by Board Member, Andrea Schara, is to gather information
on the life and times of Murray Bowen. It focuses on how he influenced and interacted with
others and ways in which he explained his theoretical ideas in everyday life. To date,
more than 60 interviews have been conducted with people who knew Dr. Bowen. Many
of these interviews have been transcribed. The goal of The Murray Bowen Archives Project is
to begin making these interviews accessible on our website.