Anthony Bowen was born into slavery in Prince George’s County, MD in 1809. Determined to build a life as a free man, he would moonlight as a painter and bricklayer, earning enough money to purchase his freedom in 1830 for $425. Shortly after, he purchased his wife’s freedom.
As a free man, he began work at the U.S. patent office. There he started as a laborer, moved up to messenger, and then a clerk, becoming the first African American clerk at the patent office.
Outside of his work, his home became a stop on the underground railroad station. It was said that he “built an extra attic in which to hide runaway slaves.”
Anthony would go on to become a founder and president of the world’s first African-American YMCA. And “he led the advocacy for local and federal governments to fund public education for black children, prompting Congress to fund, in 1868, the first free public school for black children in Southwest Washington, the E Street School. Just prior to his death, Bowen was elected to the 68th Common Council of Washington from 1870-1871.”
He passed away in 1871. His funeral was attended by many in the community.