Murray Bowen in His Time and Place


Waverly, Tennessee

Born and raised in Waverly, TN. The eldest of 5 children, Dr. Bowen was born and raised on a farm in a small, rural community. His childhood experiences later informed his theory of human behavior.

1929-1934: Great Depression

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University of Tennessee, Knoxville

As an undergraduate, studying for a bachelor of science, he joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity, whose founder noted, "… the main aim … of Sigma Chi … is to develop and train broad-minded men who can recognize the wholeness of things and who are not bound … to a … notion of exclusiveness.…"

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University of Tennessee Medical School, Memphis

While earning his M.D., Dr. Bowen was a member of the medical Phi Chi Fraternity, whose mission includes devotion to the art and science of medicine.

1934: Cumberland Homestead Project

Under the New Deal, the federal government chose Cumberland County, Tennessee, as a site to build a sustainable community to help miners, farmers and factory workers hit hard by the Depression.

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Crossville, Tennessee

In early 1938, as a new doctor, Bowen served as Project Physician for the Cumberland Homestead Project. In June 1938, when the permanent physician arrived, Bowen resigned.

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Bellevue Hospital, New York, New York

Dr. Bowen achieved his dream of working in New York City when he began an internship in neurology at Bellevue.

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Grasslands Hospital, Valhalla, New York

Dr. Bowen grew increasingly interested in surgery. He began to design a mechanical heart, but there was too little time to finish it. He was accepted for a fellowship in surgery at the Mayo Clinic, but had to postpone it to complete military service.

1939–1945: World War II

War breaks out in Europe in 1939; the U.S. enters the war in December 1941.

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Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Europe

While serving in the Army during World War II, Dr. Bowen’s observations of what would later be termed post-traumatic stress disorder changed his interest from surgery to psychiatry. Dr. Bowen held various leadership positions at Army hospitals in U.S., England and France.

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Menninger Foundation, Topeka, Kansas

Dr. Bowen accepted a Fellowship in Psychiatry at Menninger and stayed on as a staff psychiatrist. There he learned that problems with individuals were with the family to begin with. This work, together with his interest in science, led him to begin developing a new theory of human behavior.

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National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Dr. Bowen’s Family Study Project — a groundbreaking project that involved observing families of schizophrenics who were hospitalized at NIMH — influenced the development of his family systems theory and family therapy.

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Georgetown University, Washington, DC

As a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, Dr. Bowen taught and continued developing his theory, which is known today as Bowen Family Systems Theory. He formed the Family faculty and implemented a post-graduate program. In 1975, he founded the Georgetown University Family Center, which continues today, independently, as the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family.

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