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Catherine Drinker Bowen

January 04, 2024

Bowen was a bestselling biographer and author who wrote several highly-regarded books about key figures and episodes in the history of Anglo-American law.

Yankee from Olympus: Justice Holmes and His Family (1944) was Catherine Drinker Bowen’s attempt to bring Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes “out of legal terms into human terms,” she said. The partly fictionalized book dealt with Holmes’s relationship with his father and other members of his family. “Justice Holmes lives in these pages in all his genuine nobility of mind, in all his fierce integrity of spirit, in all his salty, tolerant, practical wisdom,” wrote one contemporary critic upon the book’s publication.

Bowen won the National Book Award for nonfiction for The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke (1956), which chronicled the career of the renowned British jurist who defended the supremacy of the common law against claims of royal prerogative. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention (1966) was a stirring and detailed account of the birth of the nation.

Rebecca Cooke’s neo-Fauvist portrait of Bowen liberates color from the constraints of realism and reflects the author’s own unconventional writing methods. Bowen courted controversy by doing all her own research and sometimes interviewing subjects without taking notes.

Bowen’s brother was Henry Drinker LLB’1904, who went on to become a name partner in the Philadelphia law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath (now Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath).

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