The Murray Bowen Archives

Murray Bowen's medical bag.

The Murray Bowen Archives Project is devoted to ensuring that Dr. Bowen’s writings and recordings are available to researchers and other students of human behavior through the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Already, thousands of letters, clinical notes and other documents are available at the NLM, as well as video recordings of Dr. Bowen. The Archives Project is currently processing a vast collection of writings that were found in the Bowen home.

Collections in the archives:

Toward a science of human behavior

Dr. Murray Bowen developed and defined a new perspective on human behavior, now known as Bowen theory. In the mid-20th century, when understanding and treatment of emotional and mental health issues were grounded in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Dr. Bowen turned toward the natural sciences to learn more about human life and functioning.

His journey toward a science of human behavior – rooted in biology, evolution and other natural sciences – began in the years after World War II, during his psychiatric training at the Menninger Foundation in Kansas and continued throughout his life.

A prolific writer

Throughout his career Murray Bowen wrote many professional papers, some of which were published in edited volumes. In 1978, Dr. Bowen selected those he believed best chronicled his steps towards theory development. This volume, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, has become a classic in the field of family therapy. In his epilogue to Dr. Michael Kerr’s book, Family Evaluation (1988), he described his odyssey in the development of a natural systems theory of human behavior.

The Origins of Family Therapy, published in 2013, is a collection of Dr. Bowen's notes and papers from his research project at the National Institutes of Mental Health. This collection was compiled and edited by Jack Butler.

Beyond these books, little of Dr. Bowen’s writing has been available and one might assume that his writing was limited, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Dr. Bowen was a prolific writer, often typing letters, drafts of papers and presentations well into the early morning hours. He produced reams of paper and kept copies of most of what he wrote. In addition, Dr. Bowen pioneered the use of audio and video recordings in clinical sessions and presentations, producing and saving an extensive collection of recorded media.

A treasure trove of writings and recordings

For any student of Bowen theory, this is a treasure trove. The Murray Bowen Archives offer scholars and other students of Bowen theory the opportunity to access this never before seen work of Dr. Bowen. Audio and video recordings, written documents and artifacts document the development of Bowen theory. They also offer glimpses of how Dr. Bowen thought and lived the theory every day in his personal and professional relationships.

Dr. Bowen's archives currently are in two major collections in different locations: Bethesda, Maryland, and Williamsburg, Virginia.

The Professional Collection is located in the History of Medicine Division of the National Libary of Medicine in Bethesda. This collection comprises many of Dr. Bowen’s materials, files, and audiovisuals that were housed in his home office and The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. It is one of the largest, if not the largest, of its kind. At present the professional papers and AV collections are housed at the National Library of Medicine, and the early records and family papers and photographs are housed in Williamsburg, Virginia. They include:

The collection at NLM is open to researchers. See Research at NLM for details on how to access the collection.

The Williamsburg Collection, located in Williamsburg, contains many materials from the Bowen family home, including the “treasure trove” of boxes found in the attic long after his death. The treasure trove includes class notes from college and medical school at the University of Tennessee, photographs from his time in the U.S. Army during World War II, class notes and materials from his study and work at The Menninger Foundation, and letters written to family, friends and colleagues during those years. Currently, the Williamsburg Collection is being processed in preparation for its move to join the collection at NLM. Although limited material from this collection is available through this website, the collection will not be open until after its move to NLM.