Another Plea to Reconsider Howard Lowry’s Legacy

Irene Jordan Dardashti, Contributing Writer

It was not the typical way to name a campus building when the Chair of the Board of Trustees Cary Wagner, Class of 1915, impulsively announced that a new student center on campus would be named for then president Howard F. Lowry.  That was on a cold day in December, 1965, in front of fellow trustees and a packed audience of students attending a weekday required Chapel (in Presbyterian times). Board members were taken by surprise. Lowry had not been vetted. Lowry himself was flummoxed. As the college president, it was his job to fundraise, and for years he had been doing that for the Centennial Campaign, a capital development project for a student center and several other structures. Wagner’s announcement had put Lowry in the awkward position of soliciting money for a building tied to his name. Lowry noted: Wagner “cut me off at my knees.” 

There were thirty-seven College Trustees in 1965. Five of these were women, primarily businessmen’s wives. The decade of the 1960s was a patriarchal time before the #metoo movement, Equal Rights Amendment, sexual harassment recognition, the Ms address, Title IX, credit cards in women’s names, and more. It was because of this lens that the Wooster Trustees had viewed Lowry’s serial attentiveness to women as nothing more than romantic flirtations. [Two notable biographies on Howard Lowry] noted Lowry’s multiple encounters but paid no serious attention to them. On-campus, common talk circulated that Lowry was known to romance and had proposed to professors Guille, Mateer, and more.  Apparently in the early 1960s, the Trustees had actually done an intervention with Lowry because an irate father of a student had threatened to make trouble if Lowry’s pandering did not stop. (This as per Mary Behling Browne ’62, who was informed by then-Dean Drushal.) 

Lowry’s operations in the 1960s became clandestine, because raising money for the college and the capital campaign for the student center gave him ample opportunity to travel, away from any prying trustee or community eyes. Lowry’s M.O. involved quietly targeting – marking – female students, and then following up with them after their graduation at their new locations. He found me in Oakland, California in 1963, Mary Behling in Philadelphia in 1964, S in Cleveland and Berkeley, [unnamed 1 ] in St. Louis, and [unnamed 2]  in Pittsburgh.  The Trustees appeared to have been unaware that Lowry, in his 60s, was essentially stalking his selective marks, young graduates forty years his junior, and serially pursuing them, uninvited. His hugs were tight and aroused. It was definitely awkward and emotionally unsettling for me, Mary, and the other women I have talked with or am aware of.  [Unnamed 2] called him “a dirty old man.” Many victims came forth when Mary worked at the College from 1964 to 1966; she noted that “they fell out of the sky!”

Truth matters. This is no time for willful ignorance on the part of the College’s trustees about the Lowry brand on the student center. On Oct. 4, 2021 Board of Trustees Chair Sally Staley issued a statement that after examining issues related to the naming of the Lowry Student Center dedicated in 1968,the Lowry name will remain on the Center currently under renovation. She states that the decision is based on (1) typical honorific practices tied to donor gifts, and, (2) that after an investigation by the Baker Hostetler firm, Lowry did no physical harm to students. But there are multiple public voices who want to change the name of the center at this time of rebirth. Voices include: two recent Voice editors, Maggie Doughterty ’21 and Aspen Rush ’22; hundreds of petitioners; Dr. George P. Browne ’63, the widower of Mary Behling Browne ’62, who both were also victims of Lowry’s lechery. This includes Lowry’s attempt to stop their marriage in 1966; and myself, yet another Lowry sexual harassment victim. I still possess a tranche of over forty Lowry love letters and gift memorabilia from 1963, including a transparent negligee. He complained that I didn’t write back…..

Staley’s email clearly dissembles and obfuscates historical records and the personal, emotional records of Lowry victims. As for a donor honorific, when the center came into existence in 1968, Lowry was not a donor to the center. Former President Bolton even told me that it was highly unlikely on his president’s salary that he could have been a donor. And his will, after his death in 1967, gave only a modest sum to the college for academic appointments. Student center construction funds were over one-third of the $20 million from the Centennial Campaign and another smaller capital campaign in the 1960s. So the initial center investment becomes over $70 million present value. Adding in long term capital improvements and the present reconstruction costs of more than $40 million, capital center costs equate to greater than $110 million. Trustee Richard Bell ’63 has offered a $10 million donation, included within this total, but his donation is tied to retention of the Lowry brand on the center because he is an admirer of Lowry’s Independent Study initiative. Bell’s donation is a pittance of the true costs. Those monies and requirements are best directed to help sustain and maintain the Independent Study database repository.

Lowry died on July 4, 1967 in the Oakland, California apartment of a young woman from Wooster in her 20s. He was almost 66. His will stipulated that his personal correspondence and writings be burned. Now, why would he do something like that? What that means is that he burned any correspondence, his letter drafts, and records of his contact with me, and other young women like me. No public paper trail records would be available. So, when Board of Trustees Chair Staley stated that there was no physical damage, there is emotional damage on record. Lowry made us students “marks,” and sought us out after graduation. George Browne and I have spoken up through the Voice. Others contacted the legal investigators about Lowry’s misbehaviors. But this case is difficult because he operated clandestinely and, although now seen as illegal, damages from his stalking and sexual harassment misbehavior are typically emotional. George and I can attest to that. In a rare comment at that time, it was religion Profesor Gordon Tait who called it out as “sexual harassment.” The Board of Trustees Chair is ignoring emotional damages of Lowry’s lechery in her support for retention of the Lowry brand.

Yes, after all this, Lowry was a brilliant academician. He deserves credit for the creation of the Independent Study Program, that I grant him. And he was a charming narcissist and manipulative as well. But the heartbeat building of the College, the student center, should not have his name embracing it. The last time I was on campus and in that building, it felt really creepy. And I use that word intentionally….Please remove the Lowry brand on the center.  Place it where it should or could be, enfolding the central I.S. database repository. Please.

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