Ruth Bryan Owen was born in 1885 in Jacksonville, Illinois, the eldest daughter of three-time presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan and the former Mary Baird. The family moved to Nebraska when Ruth was two years old. She attended public schools in Nebraska and, after her father’s election to Congress in 1890, in Washington, D.C. At an early age, she was tested by the climate of publicity surrounding her father. Ruth often was seen sitting by his side in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was 12 years old during her father’s first campaign for the presidency and a student at the Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, when he was nominated the second time.
Ruth B. Owen entered Florida politics in 1926, losing the Democratic primary in the state’s 4th Congressional District by a mere 770 votes. Two years later she tried again.
Ruth B. Owen entered the 71st Congress on March 4, 1929 – the first woman elected to Congress from the Deep South.
Her opponent during the general election, Republican William C. Lawson, contested the election results. Lawson contended that Owen was ineligible to hold Congressional office because she had lost her U.S. citizenship when she married an alien (her second husband Reginald Owen was British) and did not recover it under the provisions of the 1922 Cable Act until 1925. Owen successfully defended herself before a House elections committee, while exposing deficiencies in the Cable Act.
In a very short time she captivated Washington completely. In Congress, Ruth B. Owen proposed designating the Florida Everglades a national park and creating a cabinet-level department to oversee the health and welfare of families and children. She also served on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Ruth B. Owen was elected to a second term in 1930 but defeated two years later, losing the primary to James M. Wilcox
In 1933, President Roosevelt appointed Ruth B. Owen Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Denmark – making her the first American woman to represent the U.S. abroad.
Ruth B. Owen was forced to resign her post in 1936, after marrying Captain Børge Rohde of the Danish Royal Guards – and a gentleman-in-waiting to King Christian X of Denmark. The marriage made Ruth B. Owen a citizen of both the United States and Denmark, it ment, that she could not continue her diplomatic assignment. Upon returning to the States, Ruth B. Owen and Rohde traveled the country in a trailer, campaigning for Roosevelt. In her later years, Ruth B. Owen lived in Ossining, New York, writing and lecturing. At one time, she was the best-paid platform speaker in the country.
In 1945 Roosevelt named her special assistant to the State Department to aid in the drafting of the United Nations Charter, and in 1949 President Harry Truman appointed her alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. In 1954 she travelled to Denmark to accept the Order of Merit from King Frederick IX for her contributions to Danish-American friendship. While in Copenhagen, on July 26, 1954, Ruth Rohde died of a heart attack the day before the opening of the current U.S. Embassy building on Dag Hammarskjölds Alle.
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