A look at Mac founder Mary Gwen Owen’s eccentric personality


Mary Gwen Owen ’23 at her desk wearing one of her trademark hats. Photo courtesy of Macalester archives.

Kasia Majewski

Mary Gwen Owen ’23 at her desk wearing one of her trademark hats.
Photo courtesy of Macalester archives.

Mac founder Mary Gwen Owen ’23 is remembered for her larger-than-life presence on campus, both in and out of the theater department.

Owen was born in Ellsworth, Wisconsin in 1900 and graduated from Macalester in 1923. She returned to Macalester five years later and taught speech and drama for 40 years. She continued to be a significant figure in the theater department after her retirement in 1968.

Flamboyant accessories, specifically red hats, were part of Owen’s trademark looks. She was also fond of bicycling, an unusual activity for women in the first half of the twentieth century.

She allegedly concealed a pregnancy for seven months – in 1940 she would not have been able to continue teaching while pregnant.

Owen had a penchant for manners: she wrote a book on etiquette called the “MacDo Book” intended to help Macalester students succeed in the world. It addressed everything from personal hygiene and dress to public speaking. She even covered the apparently ageless phenomenon of “manspreading,” advising her male readers, “Never, anywhere, anytime, allow your knees to flop wide apart even if you are seven feet tall and double jointed! It is gauche, it is ugly.”

In 1928, Owen founded the Drama Choros, a dramatic-readings group that toured nationally and even attended a drama festival in England. It was seen as a modernizing addition to the department. The Drama Choros made local news wherever it performed and was beloved by the Macalester theater community.

Owen was also known for showing kindness and consideration towards her students; she had a habit of taking students for ice cream during difficult times.

When Owen died in 1989, the stage in the Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center was renamed in honor of her contributions to the Macalester theater department and positive impact on the Macalester community.
Owen’s legacy at Macalester was one of kindness and consideration towards her students, dedication to the art of theater in Macalester’s growing department and a vibrant personality that was dearly missed after her departure.