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COLLECTION Identifier: A-164

Papers of Chloe Owings, 1878-1970


Draft of an unpublished autobiography, photographs, writings, radio scripts, correspondence, etc., of Chloe Owings, social worker, college professor and dean, government official, public speaker and broadcaster.


  • Creation: 1878-1970

Language of Materials

Materials in English, French, or German.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Chloe Owings as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


4.38 linear feet ((10 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 15 photograph folders, 1 folio folder, 3 folio+ folders, 1 supersize folder)

The collection includes her unpublished autobiography: the chapter titles used in the following inventory are taken directly from the chapter headings and correspond roughly to those in Owings' second draft of the table of contents. The chapter headings are followed by page numbers. The collection also includes biographical information; autograph books; a short diary kept by her step-mother, Ella M. Owings, detailing chores, doctor's visits, etc.; correspondence; clippings about Owings' work; articles, reports, and other writings by her; radio scripts; photographs; etc. The correspondence is largely professional though there are letters to Marguerite from Owings during the 1930s and1940s when Marguerite went to college, married, and had children. The processor retained Owings' arrangement, which was chronological; the dates for the folders are approximate. Additional material received in September 1970 (accession number 70-98) was added to the collection in June 2015. These materials are housed in #1.9-11.4, PD.1-PD.15, FD.1, F+D.1-3, SD.1. All other files remain in the same order. Folder headings in quotations are those of Chloe Owings.


Social worker, government official, college professor and dean, public speaker and broadcaster, Chloe Owings was born on July 5, 1883, in Colusa, Illinois, one of three children of Rowena Bell (Riggins) Owings (1862-1886) and Samuel Beal Owings (1855-1932). After the death of her mother, her father remarried and the family headed west in a covered wagon to settle in Kansas, where Chloe Owings took on the bulk of the household work while caring for her invalid step-mother. She also founded a Sunday School and ran a small restaurant and hotel while her father traveled as an itinerant carpenter. After her step-mother's death around 1903, and with the encouragement of a group of women from her church, Owings went on to attend Knox Academy (1904-1906), Knox College (1906-1910), St. Louis School of Social Economy, and Washington University (M.A. 1911), where her thesis was entitled Social Conditions of Tuberculous Children. She served as visitor and district secretary of the New York Charity Organization Society (1911-1912) and general secretary of Associated Charities in Poughkeepsie, New York (1912-1916), before leaving for France where she served in various capacities for the American Relief Clearing House in Paris, in French military hospitals, and for the American Red Cross. Her service there earned her the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise. Owings continued to work in France after the war, at the American Hospital of Paris (1920-1922) where she was director of information and raised money to a build a new hospital; as European representative in Paris to the National Information Bureau of New York City (1919-1922); and as a staff member at the Ecole Pratique de Service Social (1917-1921) where she initiated and taught the first course in social case work ever offered in France. While at the Service Social pour les Enfants en Danger Moral, she helped to establish a juvenile court, serving as a model for such courts in the rest of France and other European countries. For this work she was honored with the Legion d'Honneur and the Medaille Penetentiaire which stated that "her work has changed the treatment of children in all correctional institutions in France." Owings also earned highest honors for her doctoral work at the Sorbonne in 1923; her thesis, the first at any French university on a social service topic, was on the treatment of young delinquents in France.

While in France, Owings was appointed legal guardian of a young child, Marguerite (1918-2007). It is likely that Owings was her biological mother. Returning to the United States, she worked for the American Social Hygiene Association (1923-1927), publishing during this time a book, Women Police: A Study of the Development and Status of the Women Police Movement , and for the New York School of Social Work (1926-1927) where she taught and developed and supervised field work for students. From 1927 to 1932 she was professor and director of the Social Hygiene Bureau at the University of Minnesota, conducting research in parental sex education, developing training courses for teachers of parents, and giving public lectures at schools, churches, and civic associations. Following some travel and study in Europe (February 1932 to October 1933) where she looked at the Franco-German relationship and the issue of rearmament, she served as assistant director of the Women's Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration where she was responsible for putting into operation work projects for women. She served as dean and student-faculty consul at Keuka College in Keuka Park, New York (1937-1941), and ran a farm in North Carolina from 1941-1942. In 1943, she founded the Pasadena Institute for Radio (later the California Institute of Radio and Television), and, in 1953, helped establish the School of Social Work at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico. After her retirement, Owings remained active in California, as a registrar of voters, and with the Campfire Girls. In September 1958, she began an autobiographical account of her life, called Living Through Covered Wagon to Space Ship Age. Her daughter Marguerite (Mio) married Vincent Polifroni in 1942, lived in California, and had three children: Adele, Kathy, and Francis. She worked as a social worker and as a teacher with a special interest in early childhood education; the family was active in the Orange Grove Friends' Meeting in Pasadena. Owings' letters to her daughter attest to her interest in spirituality and the development of the soul. She died in 1967 in California.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 70-25, 70-98

These papers of Chloe Owings was given to the Schlesinger Library in March and September 1970 by her daughter, Marguerite (Mio) Polifroni.


Donor: Marguerite (Mio) Polifroni

Accession numbers: 70-25, 70-98

Processed by: Anne Engelhart

The following items have been removed from the collection and sent to Widener Library for consideration of the curator:

  1. Vu: L'énigme allemande, April 13, 1932, #213
  2. Hamburger Illustrierte sonderheft: Ist Deutschland zur See gesichert?, January 1933

Processing Information

Re-processed: June 1981

By: Gaye Williams

Updated and additional material added: June 2015

By: Anne Engelhart

Owings, Chloe, 1883-1967. Papers of Chloe Owings, 1878-1970: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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