Cowley, John Paul (1904—28 December 1985)
Cowley was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1904. He received his bachelor's degree from Heidelberg College in 1928, a master's degree from the University of Wichita in 1930, and his doctoral degree from Yale University in 1943.
Cowley was a professor of literature in Cedar Falls at the University of Northern Iowa from 1945 until he retired in 1973. During the 1962-1963 academic year, he served as Acting Head of the English Department.
Prior to joining the UNI English faculty in 1945, Dr. Cowley taught speech at the University of Wichita; English, speech, and history at Colorado State College; and English at Indiana University. He served as dean of the Junior College of Commerce in New Haven, Connecticut, and as an editor for the World Publishing Company.
In 1973 he was awarded the Iowa Council of Teachers of English (ICTE) Distinguished Service Award. The award was made for his decade - long service as liaison officer between the ICTE and the National Council of Teachers of English; for his service on the Council's censorship, teaching load, and public relations committees; and for his contribution to the creation of the ICTE constitution and bylaws.
Dr. Cowley published articles on Sir Walter Scott's "Lawyer and the Bishop" and "Marmion."
In the late 1940s when students Gordon Strayer and Warren Allen Smith wanted to start a philosophy club and needed two members of the faculty as sponsors, they found it was not easy to find sponsors. Two professors, however, agreed. Cowley co-sponsored the Humanist Club with biology professor Martin L. Grant. Cowley was chosen because of his liberal views about freethinking authors such as Unitarians Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Grant for his skepticism and outspoken atheism.
The school’s 1948 yearbook, Old Gold, described it as a “deep thinkers club” with the following aims:
- Believing their college training alone does not supply the integration of ideas so necessary in the development of a personal philosophy, the members meet weekly and discuss their own and others’ individual philosophies. Subjects cover all fields, including ethics, aesthetics, determinism, planned economies, social action, and Unitarianism. Although larger campuses have clubs of similar purpose, this is the first of its name on any campus.
Concerning his studying at Yale, his daughter Joan wrote:
- At Yale, Dad cemented many of his philosophical directions. New England provided an awareness/acceptance of Unitarianism that certainly did not exist in Cedar Falls when my parents moved there. After his retirement, he was selected as the lay minister for the Unitarian Universalist congregation serving Black Hawk County, serving for about four years, following which the group hired a full-time minister.
One of his students, Warren Allen Smith, has written in 2006,
- Dr. Cowley did not mention religion in his memorable classes about 19th century English literature. What he did was make Coleridge and Wordsworth come alive. When he distinguished between Coleridge's being addicted to an opiate that had been prescribed by a physician, as opposed to being a drug addict, students who were sniffing inhalers took notice. When he mentioned that Coleridge had been a Unitarian, students had to find out for themselves what the term meant - other terms he invited students to investigate were deism and transcendentalism, so any conscientious student learned by example that Cowley was less a professor who professed what he thought but, rather, was a teacher who demanded that students dig for meanings that they found meaningful. Cowley's mention that Wordsworth was an animist similarly led students to the library to find what this was all about. His classes did not use audio-visual devices, but somehow he made the Lake Country so colorful we wanted to go visit. I was majoring in music at the time, and what he taught about classicalism and romanticism helped me see the usefulness of such terms in explaining that the romantic Dohnányi was breaking the rules laid down by classicalists Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven. I remember no one else's classes so vividly, 60 years after having been in them.
Dr. Cowley's wife, Helen Cowley, also was an active Unitarian.
At the age of 81, he died Saturday, December 28, 1985, at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.