A remarkable number of early day Dallas women distinguished in their own right are buried in the old Masonic and Odd Fellows cemeteries on South Akard, now known as Pioneer Memorial Park. Among these is Juliette Peak Fowler, whose memory is perpetuated in the Fowler Homes for Children and the Aged. Juliette Fowler appears to have been the city’s first philanthropist, in the present-day sense of one who effects long-range, well-planned philanthropy through gifts and bequests of personal wealth. There seems to be little question of her primacy among women in this regard.
The two Fowler homes have long been operated under the auspices and with the support of the National Benevolent Association of the Christian Churches ( Disciples of Christ). The two pioneer Dallas welfare agencies occupy fifteen acres in the heart of East Dallas, the site specifically chosen and donated by Mrs. Fowler for these sole purposes as disclosed in her will, filed after her death in 1889. The Fowler Home for the Aged was among the first of its kind in Texas.
Juliette Fowler was born in Kentucky in 1837, a daughter of Jefferson and Martha Reser Peak. They established a pioneer family in Dallas that holds a prominent place in the story of both city and county. She was a high-spirited, attractive young woman who at eighteen had made the arduous five-weeks’ journey overland with her parents, brothers, and sisters from their former home in Warsaw, Kentucky. They arrived in Dallas April 3, 1855. The father, a veteran of the Mexican War, began his career in Dallas by buying a large farm covering much of what later became East Dallas. Subsequently opened as Peak’s Addition, the principal streets donated by the developer include present Peak Street as well as those named for his sons Carroll, Junius, Worth, and Victor. An idea of the grace and winning personality of Juliette Peak is suggested by the fact that on May 1, 1858, at the May Day picnic held “in the dense woods” adjoining the James M. Patterson home on North Akard at Patterson, she was chosen the May queen—the first ever crowned in Dallas.
In 1859 Juliette Peak made a promisingly brilliant marriage. At her parents’ home, which stood at present Peak and Worth, she was united in marriage to A. Y. Fowler. He was a twenty-four-year-old native of South Carolina who, with John Peter Smith, had formed the first law partnership in Fort Worth. The young couple established their home in that city. But tragedy struck two years later when her husband was assassinated, the tragic result of a senseless provocation by a drunk man at a Fourth of July picnic. The Fowlers’ first child, a daughter, died at nine months of age, and their only son, born after his father’s death, also died in infancy. The sorely stricken young widow returned to Dallas, making her home at first with her sister Sarah while her husband, Alexander Harwood, was away serving the Confederacy, first as assistant postmaster general under John H. Reagan, then as a captain in the 19th Texas Cavalry. At the end of the war Mrs. Fowler once more moved into the home of her parents in East Dallas. Mrs. Fowler never remarried. Her life was increasingly devoted to her family and to good works. The latter found expression both within her church, the First Christian of Dallas, which her parents had helped found, and in assisting a number of orphans and other needy in the community.
As she approached middle age, Mrs. Fowler began serious study of how best to use her means in lasting ways through philanthropic causes. She was attracted to the chautauqua at Monteagle, Tennessee, where she bought lots on which cottages were built for summertime use by women teachers from Texas. Mrs. Fowler also became interested in the administration of welfare institutions. She spent a winter at the then famous sanitarium at Dansville, New York. There she observed “methods and treatments” which appeared practicable to her in the development of plans “then crystallizing in her own mind.” In 1889 Mrs. Fowler suffered a severe loss of hearing and went to New York to consult specialists in ills of the ear. There she died on June 4 while staying at the home of an old friend, Mrs. M. I. Barkley. She was fifty-two years of age.
Mrs. Fowler’s will was found to be “full of charitable bequests.” But the principal one was for the establishment of the homes for children and the aged. The fifteen acres donated by her in East Dallas were valued at the time at $75,000. Her will also provided for a trust fund which ultimately yielded several thousand dollars in cash toward the actual start of the homes, Throughout her planning, Mrs. Fowler had the close sympathy and interest of her sister, Mrs. Harwood. The latter, after Mrs. Fowler’s death, devoted much of her time and effort to the final realization of the two charitable institutions. It is interesting to note that Mrs. Harwood, who lived until 1914, was buried beside her husband and other members of her family on the Harwood lot in the same cemetery that holds the mortal remains of Juliette Peak Fowler.
Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam H. Acheson. Photo courtesy Juliette Fowler communities.