Local Obituaries

Family, friends remember Peggy Bowman as fierce but accepting women's advocate

Peggy Bowman
Peggy Bowman

Those who were lucky enough to know Peggy Bowman Jarman remember her for her kindness and her commitment.

A tenacious advocate for abortion rights and a proud lesbian, Ms. Bowman — who passed away Thursday from heart failure — was a giant in the Kansas women’s rights community. She was 75.

“You have to be able to lose with grace, a sense of humor and a willingness to keep trying when you work in abortion rights in Kansas,” said Elise Higgins, interim director of public policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Very few people make it their career to ensure that people can access abortion if and when they need it, but Peggy did.”

Higgins did not meet Ms. Bowman until 2011, but said Ms. Bowman served as an inspiration throughout her career.

“She was a movement mama,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of pro-choice and reproductive justice foundation Trust Women. “She had put so much of herself and dedicated so much of her life to working toward equality and justice in this community.”

Ms. Bowman worked for Planned Parenthood in Wichita for a number of years, eventually serving as its executive director. In 1989, she began a decade-long stint as a lobbyist for George Tiller, a physician who performed late-term abortions.

Though a determined fighter for women’s rights, Ms. Bowman was gentle and accepting, Burkhart said, qualities her sons also emphasized.

“While she was front and center on the controversial issue of abortion, she was not a confrontational person,” her son, Jeffrey, said in an e-mail.

He described an incident in 1991 when anti-abortion protesters came to the family’s front yard and Ms. Bowman and her other son, Brian, ran them off by blasting Kenny Rogers’ “Love Is Strange” rather than calling police or bringing in other activists to help counter the protest.

When thousands of anti-abortion protesters flocked to Wichita that year to protest outside three abortion clinics during the “Summer of Mercy,” Ms. Bowman famously tangled with national abortion rights leaders who wanted to directly confront the anti-abortion activists.

Preferring to focus on patient access rather than media attention, Ms. Bowman asked the abortion rights leaders to leave the sidewalk they had reclaimed from anti-abortion activists, a decision Jeffrey said she recounted as one of the hardest things she had ever done.

In addition to her tireless work for women’s rights, Ms. Bowman enjoyed spending time with her friends — playing cards, meeting up for lunch, searching for Wichita’s best burger — and taking vacations, particularly summer trips to Colorado, her sons said in an e-mail.

Burkhart said she thinks Ms. Bowman’s legacy will be one of acceptance.

“The work she did in recent years seems to have been rolled back — however, I think in time we will see a community that is more accepting and less divisive,” she said.

“The little ripples that she started in her work, you never know who it’s going to touch or where it’s going to land.”

Madeline Fox: 316-268-6357, @maddycfox