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30/10 - Kirke L. and Mary T. Cowdery


Kirke Lionel Cowdery was born on May 3, 1869 in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. After receiving his B.A. at the University of Wisconsin in 1888, he studied the French language and literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. Returning to the United States, he accepted a post to teach French at Oberlin College, first as a tutor in the preparatory department (1888-90); and then in the college where he taught as an instructor (1892-93); an assistant professor; an associate professor (1903-27); and professor (1927-31) until retiring in 1931.

Known as a student “for the love of it,” Professor Cowdery attended the Alliance Francaise in Paris during the summer of 1903; the Harvard summer program in French, 1917; the Middlebury summer French language school, 1921, 1922, 1925; and the summer program at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, 1924. At home, he was diligent in his private study among his own books.

During World War I, Professor Cowdery had a leave of absence from the college to engage in war work in France (February 1918-June 1919). A volunteer, he served as a foyer for French troops with the French YMCA. He later worked at the University of Toulouse where he was dean for four months helping American soldiers who came there to study.

Although he could not travel overseas during World War II, Professor Cowdery served at home, becoming recognized as one of Oberlin’s faithful workers for both the Red Cross and French relief. He participated in financial campaigns and in the preparation of large quantities of relief materials for shipment to Europe and worked at the enrollment desk during fund drives. He personally knitted scores of pieces and made most of the buttonholes for the hundreds of garments produced in Oberlin for the Red Cross.

In 1892, Kirke Lionel Cowdery married Mary Emily Taylor (A.B. 1890). They had two sons: Lawrence Taylor Cowdery (b. July 23, 1893; A.B. 1916) and Karl Montague Cowdery (b. August 11, 1895; A.B. 1915; d. September 12, 1944).

At the time of his death in Oberlin on January 15, 1946, Professor Cowdery’s friends and colleagues remembered him for “being himself, which included warm friendship and kindness and quiet, unassuming service” (Frances Hosford). Alumni remembered him and Mrs. Cowdery as ardent bicyclists. Local children remembered him as “Mr. Santa Claus,” the gentleman who always gave them chocolate bars from his bag of books. He was a man who served the college, the community, and the world.

A photograph and biographical information about Kirke L. Cowdery are included in the digital collection “Oberlin College and Military Service in World War I,” presented by the Oberlin College Archives.


Mary Emily Taylor Cowdery was born on May 3, 1869, in Mount Vernon, Ohio, the daughter of Zenno Elbridge and Sarah Zilfrah Dellar Taylor. Before graduating from Oberlin College in 1890, she had begun her career of teaching French and mathematics: first in the Academy and then as an instructor and assistant professor of French. She taught at Oberlin College for forty-five years.

In 1892, she married Kirke Lionel Cowdery, a professor of French at Oberlin College. The couple had two sons: Lawrence Taylor Cowdery (b. July 23, 1893; A.B. 1916) and Karl Montague Cowdery (b. August 11, 1895; A.B. 1915; d. September 12, 1944).

Mary Cowdery was regarded as “a person singularly gentle, yet strong; modest, often self–effacing, yet uncompromisingly independent in thought and action” (Boyers). She and Professor Cowdery were known throughout the Oberlin community for a “gracious sincerity, courage, humor, a fine love for the good and beautiful in life, a fine distaste for the degrading” (Frances Hosford). Both were serious bicyclists.

Mary Emily Taylor Cowdery died in Oberlin on January 27, 1957.

Sources Consulted

Sources Consulted for Kirke L. Cowdery:

Cowdery, Kirke Lionel. Application to the Carnegie Foundation for Retiring Allowance, 1936.

Cowdery, Kirke Lionel. Oberlin College Biographical Form. January 3, 1929.

“K. L. Cowdery Dies; Funeral is Today.” Photocopy of unidentified newspaper obituary.

Oberlin College news release on the death of Professor Kirke Lionel Cowdery. January 16, 1946.

“Professor K. L. Cowdery Dies; Taught French, 1890-1931.” Oberlin College Alumni Bulletin. February, 1946. p. 5.

Note: Materials above located in the faculty file of Kirke Lionel Cowdery (RG 28/3).

Sources Consulted for Mary T. Cowdery:

Boyers, W. Hayden. “Mary Taylor Cowdery, ’90; 1869-1957.” Oberlin Today. First Quarter, 1957.

Cowdery, Mary Taylor. Oberlin College- 1948 Alumni Catalogue – Report Blank.

“Mrs. Cowdery of Oberlin Is Dead; Rites Tomorrow.” The Cleveland, Ohio Plain Dealer. January 29, 1957. n.p.

Oberlin College news release on the death of Professor Kirke Lionel Cowdery. January 16, 1946.

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