1907 - 1925 Robert Latham Owen - First US Senator of Native American Descent


1907 - 1925 Robert Latham Owen - First US Senator of Native American Descent


Oklahoma Sen. Robert L. Owen (1907-1925) was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1856, to Robert Owen, president of the Virginia and Tennessee Railway, and Narcissa Clark Chisholm. As a ten-year-old, Owen attended school near Baltimore and later graduated from Washington and Lee University with honors and a master’s degree in 1877.

The family’s fortune was lost to unexplained circumstances, likely related to the Civil War and reconstruction. The loss, and the death of his father, forced Owen and his mother, who was of Native American descent, to move to the Indian Territory, where they were entitled to tribal property. While living in what later became Oklahoma, Owen briefly taught school at the Cherokee Orphan Asylum before studying law and gaining admittance to the bar in 1880. In 1885, he was appointed head of the United States Union Agency for the Five Civilized Tribes.

Owen owned and edited a newspaper in Vinita, Oklahoma, and in 1890 established the First National Bank of Muskogee, where he served as president until 1900.

When Oklahoma was granted statehood in 1907, Owen was appointed to represent the state by the Oklahoma legislature. With the selection, Owen was not only one of the state’s first two senators but also one of the nation’s first two senators of Native American decent.

Owen was a leader in the direct election of senators and the Child Labor Act, among other issues. The highlight of his Senate career, however, arguably was his involvement with the Federal Reserve Act. “The whole country owes you a debt of gratitude and admiration,” President Woodrow Wilson wrote to Owen. “It has been a pleasure to be associated with you in so great a piece of constructive legislation.”

After retiring from the Senate in 1925, Owen practiced law in Washington, DC, but devoted much of his time to promoting an international alphabet that he hoped would make English a universal language. The system, which was inspired by an eighty-five-character alphabet created by the Cherokee Chief Sequoia in 1823, was unsuccessful, but it received a significant amount of media attention.

After the death of his wife, Daisy Hester, in 1946, Owen lived the final months of his life alone in an apartment near Washington’s Meridian Hill Park. After being hospitalized for several weeks with an illness and undergoing an operation, he died in 1947 at the age of ninety-one. Today, Owen and Glass are both buried in Lynchburg’s Spring Hill Cemetery.

Note: Written by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.


US Library of Congress


c. 1910 Dec. 31


Robert Latham Owen, 1856-1947 

Source: Library of Congress. Digital ID



Library of Congress


Library of Congress


Library of Congress














US Library of Congress, 1907 - 1925 Robert Latham Owen - First US Senator of Native American Descent, Library of Congress, c. 1910 Dec. 31

Cite As

US Library of Congress, “1907 - 1925 Robert Latham Owen - First US Senator of Native American Descent,” Virtual Museum of Public Service, accessed August 14, 2022, https://vmps.omeka.net/items/show/81.