Mary Ruth Bowman: the mother of women’s sports in Durango


Mary Ruth Bowman is well known in Durango for her significant contribution to women’s sports.

Lily Longan, Reporter

Mary Ruth Bowman is a woman of many stories. Born in 1926 in the Canal Zone of Panama, the 91-year-old has witnessed everything from the Great Depression to the rise of modern internet.

When Mrs. Bowman moved to Durango in 1951, what she noticed immediately was the absence of a public recreation center or a girls athletic program in the high school. She was determined to progress the community and implement these elements into our community.

She brought her concerns about a community recreation center to The League of Women Voters, the civic education group to which she belonged.

“The League studies issues. In 1960, we (The League) chose to study recreation” said Bowman. Bowman knew more about recreation centers than the other league members.

“Right across the street from where I lived we had a rec center like this one here. This is 1926! In Panama! The center opened at eight in the morning and I was there at eight, it closed at five and I was still there” said Bowman.

Bowman was shocked that Durango had no rec center. She had grown up with one her whole life in Panama and in North Carolina, where she spent the later days of her childhood.

“Guess who worked in the rec center, my father!” You know how far it was from my house? One block” said Bowman.

After the league took up the issue in 1951, Mrs. Bowman went on to join the recreation committee, and with their work, including a petition signed by many members of the community, the proposal for the rec center passed by a narrow city council vote of 3-2. Construction started on the recreation center in 2000, a satisfying end to a half century of Bowman’s work.

Another milestone of Bowman’s community work was the implementation of girl’s sports into schools. Bowman saw that the only athletics programs Durango High School offered for females was Dance Team or Cheerleading.

“In 1971, girls had no sports except in private schools. A doctor friend of mine, Dr. Edgerton, he had three daughters, and we had a swim team, still do. The boys had all these things, and the girls didn’t have anything,” said Bowman.

Bowman decided the easiest method to get girls their deserved funding was to go directly to the school.

“So we discussed it and we went to the athletic director.  We said ‘we want a girls swim team.’ they said, ‘we can’t afford it.’ ‘What do you mean you can’t afford it, you’ve got 80 boys on the football scholarship!’ ” said Bowman.

Things changed a year later when Title IX was passed. Title IX is the amendment passed in 1972 that requires schools to give girls the same athletic funding that boys get.

“Guess what happened in 1972, Title IX. Then we got our girls swim team. You know how many you have now? 13 girl’s sports, ” said Bowman.

Title IX was passed, and Mrs. Bowman and Dr. Edgerton went to the school. They asked again for funding for the girl’s swim team. When the school still refused to fund the girls with the ready excuse of not having enough money to fund both girls and boys athletics, they used Title IX as ground to threaten to sue the school.

“If you’re not going to get your swim team, what’re you going to do? Sue them. Guess what, we got a swim team that year,” said Bowman.

Mary Ruth’s work does not go unnoticed, even though it has been almost 50 years since she got women’s sports implemented into Durango schools.

“As an athlete, I’ve just really come to appreciate everything that she has done and kind of the pioneering work that she did,” said Dale Garland, a colleague of Bowman’s and current Dean of Students at DHS.

“You always know when Mary Ruth Bowman is in the room. She is very much outspoken” said Garland.

This outspoken personality may have been one of her strongest assets in her work in the community of Durango.

“It’s not easy to do some of the things she did in terms of getting women’s sports here.

It’s very hard for people to say no to Mary Ruth because she is so clear and so forceful and dedicated to what she does,” said Garland.

A former student of Mrs. Bowman’s and current teacher at DHS,  Robert Logan, who went to school during the time that Title IX passed, remembers how Mrs. Bowman’s work impacted the school community, especially the parents.

“The general impression was, and I think, to some extent, still is, that the money doesn’t get distributed where they want it to be. So there is always a tension between a girl’s sports and a boy’s sport,” said Logan.

The school and its athletics programs have changed since the time Mr. Logan went to school.

“I think the change has just been the sheer number of opportunities they [the girls] have. The sheer number of opportunities they have is significantly higher” said Logan.

As for being a student who experienced a health class where Mrs. Bowman came in to guest teach, Mr. Logan had only one comment about her. “Crazy. She was as crazy back then as she is now, just a little more animated. I don’t remember many of my teachers from highschool, and I sort of don’t remember any teachers that came in just once or twice or three times to teach something, but she is one I do remember,” said Logan.

Mrs. Bowman is well known by many long-standing families of the Durango community. Her work in implementing girls sports into Durango High School and petitioning for the Recreation Center has one reason.

“I had all these opportunities, and I just want to give those opportunities back,” said Bowman.