Dr. George W. Bowles was born in York, Pa. in 1881. He was the Son of Mr. Adolphus & Mrs. Harriet Bowles of this town. His father Adolphus Bowles, was born in 1850 here in York. They lived at 127 West Princess Street. His Father Adolphus was employed in the Small building downtown as an Elevator Man. George was always an intelligent and motivated individual. He was the First Black Man to graduate from York High in 1898, although he was the second Black Person overall. Mrs. Emma Robinson, longtime school teacher of this town, was the very first person of color to graduate from York High in 1886.
After graduating from York High, Dr. Bowles attended and graduated from Livingstone College, a Historically Black University in North Carolina, affiliated with the A.M.E. Zion Church. He then pursued a four year Degree in Medicine at Howard University in Washington D.C. Dr. Bowles graduated number one in his class from Howard University on June 1, 1906. He was awarded his diploma personally by U.S. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. In 1906, immediately after graduation, Dr. Bowles returned to York to become the First Black physician to practice in this city. But Dr. Bowles became more than just a Doctor. He became a Guiding Light in the development of York’s Black community for the next several decades.
In 1913 Dr. Bowles wrote one of the most controversial papers ever when he advocated a separate Negro Colony as a strategy to combat the atrocious conditions the Negro had to cope with. During a lecture before the Paine Literary Society held at Bethel A.M.E. church Bowles advocated segregation as a way to bring about better living conditions for the Negro in the city and said there ws presently a movement afoot in the city to organize a Negro Colony in York. His lecture was entitled “The living Conditions of the Negro”. Education was dealt with at length in his lecture. The Doctor criticized the Negro for his lack of interest in the public schools intending to show the importance of education to the Negro both individually and as a race. He referred to two representative Negroes, Dr. W.E.B.DuBois and Booker T Washington. the former for his efforts in the pushing the value of higher education and the latter for his emphasis on expanding industrial and vocational education. Speaking about discrimination, Dr. Bowles referred to conditions in this as showing how unjust as far as citizenship, the treatment Negroes receive in this city is. Getting even more controversial Dr. Bowles suggested the citizens of York should offer inducements that will attract a better class f Negroes rather than the large portion of Negroes who are undesirable. He went on to say that on certain occasions it was impossible for Negro ministers and professionals to rent on a good street, but was compelled to live under filthy conditions. Bose disclosed that steps are being taken at this time to get a number of local organizations enlisted in a movement to start a Negro colony, a place where the Negro could live without the accustomed humiliation.
In 1917 Dr. Bowles married the lovely Helen Hunter Taylor, a teacher in the Harrisburg public schools. She was the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Lorenzo Taylor, who were prominent in the colored circles of Harrisburg. Miss Taylor in addition to being a school teacher was a musician of marked ability. The couple would reside at 322 Water Street in York which is now Pershing Avenue.
Dr. Bowles was well known in this city and commanded great respect especially among the leading citizens here, both Black and White. He was President of the Peoples Forum a Black organization which stressed education and vocational activities in York. In 1910 the Peoples Forum opened and operated a tobacco factory on Penn & Smyser Street in York. The factory was under the direct supervision of Dr. Bowles and employed about 50 Negroes. The factory was one of the greater accomplishments of the Peoples Forum Vocational and Employment initiatives. The workers were paid between $2.50 and $9.00 per week. Dr. Bowles intended the Forum and its initiatives to be a Great force for uplift among the colored race in this city. The Forum was non-sectarian and held a regular meeting every Sunday at A.M.E. Zion church which was on East King Street at the time. Other officers of the organization were; Marion J. Armstrong Vice-President, S. Milton Gibson, Secretary, Albert Foster assistant Secretary, Paul Foster corresponding Secretary, Nathan Gibson Chaplin, George Chapman Bible Instructor and John C. Reeves Treasurer.
Dr. Bowles along with Rev. Thomas Montouth and his wife Mary, was also instrumental in procuring the Community House for Colored People which was established on North Duke Street in 1917 and had a reading room, reception room, game room and a small gymnasium. Community House was under the auspices of Faith Presbyterian Church and was a model for the Crispus Attucks Association, of which Dr. Bowles along with Rev. Montouth, was a Founding member. In addition to Bible study classes, domestic science and art classes, boys and girls clubs and an employment bureau the Community House became famous for its Community Lyceums or forums. These lyceums were held every week alternatively at the several Negro churches in the community.
In 1915 Dr. Bowles, whose office was at 112 West King Street, was one of three representatives from the State of Pennsylvania to be appointed by then Governor Tener to attend the Emancipation Celebration marking the fiftieth anniversary of Negro Freedom, which was to be held in Chicago.
In 1917 Dr. Bowles was elected as a member of the House of Delegates of the National Medical Association, an organization of Negro doctors, surgeons, dentist and pharmacists throughout the United States. In 1938 he was elected as President of this prestigious organization. As President of this organization Dr. Bowles was honored by the Pennsylvania Institute of Negro Health for his “outstanding contributions” and for his activity in planning for better Negro health in the United States. He testified before the U.S. Senate committee on a national health bill.
For 10 years Dr. Bowles chaired the advisory committee of the National Negro United Public Health Services in Washington. In 1942 he was appointed by Governor Gifford Pinchot as a member of the Pennsylvania Inter-Racial Commission. Locally he served for six years as Chairman of the Inter-Racial Commission of York. And in addition to his character building efforts at Crispus Attucks he was instrumental in insuring that the young Black males of York had an opportunity to build their character and leadership skills by participating in the Historic Boy Scout Troop #11, which he along with others worked diligently to sustain.
Dr. Bowles was a prolific writer and a powerful speaker. He would write many letters to the local newspapers trumpeting the need for Negro Unity to address the problems in the Negro community. During celebration recognizing the two hundred and ninety sixth anniversary of the Negro in this country, held at St. Pauls Hall on West Jackson Street, Dr. Bowles spoke on the subject “Will the Education of the Negro Solve the Race Problem?” For a speech at the Bethel A.M.E. church on Newberry & King Street, Dr. Bowles chose as his topic “Race prejudice and Some of It’s Causes”. At another Lyceum at Bethel A.M.E Dr. Bowles spoke on “The Negro Problem Real & Imaginary”.
In March of 1916, Dr. Bowles and others, organized a committee of persons interested in uplifting the colored people of this community. They called a mass meeting for the expressed purpose of forming a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The objectives of the organization would be to form a center for popular education, to create a bureau for the study of local racial conditions and to seek the overall welfare and advancement of the colored people of York.
A short time later Dr. Bowles and a delegation of York Negroes met with Mayor Hugentugler to petition against the showing of the racist film “Birth of a Nation”. The delegation felt that the already considerable prejudice against the Negro race in York would be made far worse by the showing of this anti-Negro film which was based on the Thomas Dixon, Jr. book “The Clansman”. Other members of the delegation were; Rev. J.A.S. Cole, Pastor of A.M.E. Zion church; Rev. G.S. Burton Pastor of Shiloh Baptist church; Rev. W.E. Williams, George I. Reed, G.H. Chapman, and B.T. Montgomery.
Dr. Bowles served on the Board of Directors of Crispus Attucks for over 20 years. Crispus Attucks had a resounding impact on the growth and development of York’s Black Community during and after the tenure of Dr, Bowles. Dr. Bowles statement on the founding of Crispus Attucks was prophetic. He said, “We have a National Purpose in forming this organization. We will be a character building organization. We want to influence the young in order to bring them into Harmony with our ideals. We hope in the development of our center to bring to bear influences that will create conditions which will enable another rising generation to develop character and to perpetuate the best of our culture and traditions. The overall purpose of our organization is for the promotion of the social and moral welfare of the colored people of York. To us this means up-building character by creating and developing activities and conditions that will help the individuals to live happily and normally with each other.”