Mrs. French L. Cowens was born French L. Jackson to Willie Mae and Willis Jackson on November 9,1928 in Gladewater, TX. She grew up in old North Central Dallas. As a little girl she would walk to church on Sundays by herself to St. John’s Baptist Church. On her way to church she caught the attention of sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary convent from St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church across the street from St. John’s. They were so impressed with the little girl they asked her mother if she could attend St. Peters academy and live in the convent with the other girls (tuition free). Her mother gave permission. French L. was raised in the convent. She went to daily mass, communion and evening vespers every day. She excelled in academics and graduated at age 16 from high school with honors. She attended the Xavier University School of Pharmacy in New Orleans. She excelled in her studies and completed the demanding 5-year pharmacy program in 3 and a half years (with honors). She also found time to pledge Delta Sigma Theta sorority and become president of the Pharmacy Club. She was also crowned Miss Xavier (homecoming queen) in 1948.
After graduation from Xavier, French L. faced a dilemma. She was only 20 years old and too young to take the State Pharmacy Board. The required age was 21. So, she worked menial jobs for 6 months until she could take the Louisiana Pharmacy Board which she passed. Upon reciprocating to Texas, she faced the challenge of finding a pharmacy position. In the early 1950’s this qualified young African American woman could not get a job as a pharmacist in Dallas, Texas. She prayed everyday as was her habit. She was able in the meantime to become a teacher of Chemistry, Biology and Algebra at Dallas Booker T. Washington High School. There she met Edward L. Cowens who she married and with whom she had 2 sons (Kenneth and Kevin). Her prayers were answered when the Pharmacy Administrator at St. Paul’s hospital (Sister Florence) hired Mrs. Cowens to run the pharmacy on the 3-11 shift for the 700-bed hospital. The conditions were that she would have to work alone, and she would arrive 45 minutes after the dayshift personnel left so they would not know she was black.
One day a white pharmacist from the day shift made a medication error. An irate surgeon went to the pharmacy that evening to confront the pharmacist. To his surprise he found Mrs. Cowens running the pharmacy and the secret was out. Because her work was so impeccable and the error not hers. She was not terminated for being black. She continued to run the evening pharmacy for years thereafter. She resigned after a newly graduated young white male pharmacist was hired to be her supervisor and she was instructed to teach him his job.
Mrs. Cowens continued to pray and opened a neighborhood pharmacy in North Central Dallas and went back to teaching at her alma mater, St Peters Academy. There she taught high school Chemistry and Biology. While there she was a powerful role model for hundreds of African American young men and women. She continued to pray every day and do the best she could. She continued to practiced pharmacy at various outlets in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. And she continued to pray.
In 1964 the Forest Avenue Hospital was opened by 3 black doctors and a black entrepreneur. She was asked to become the Director of Pharmacy.
It was her dream position: directing a pharmacy in a hospital owned by black doctors taking care of her people. The tiny 65 bed facility gave medical care to over 65,000 black and Hispanic people in the South Dallas area. She ran the Forest Avenue Pharmacy until shortly before its closure in 1979. Mrs. French L. Cowens was the first African American woman in the State of Texas to practice pharmacy.
Mrs. Cowens lived a life of courage and hard work. She bore great love for her family and her people. She referred to the racial discrimination as “the civil war”. Nobody fought with more passion, pain and faith than she did. She believed that the most powerful “stick” for her people to fight with was education. She believed in the past and the future of her people with all her heart. She will live on in the hearts and memories of those who loved her and saw her live well. She never ceased praying including for the futures of her sons. They both became medical doctors.
She leaves to cherish her memory: her eldest son Dr. Kenneth G. Cowens and his wife Mrs. Donna Cowens of Warner Robins, GA, Dr. Kevin E. Cowens Sr. of El Paso, TX, former daughter in law, Beverly B. Cowens of Dallas TX, granddaughter Maria Cowens-Burchfield, grandson Jason Kenneth Cowens, granddaughter Michelle B. Bowman, grandson Kevin E. Cowens Jr., granddaughter Devin F.L. Cowens, great grandsons Dylan and Gavin Burchfield and Miles Bowman, great granddaughters Theresa Burchfield, Laurie Cowens, Sasha and Paige Bowman; 1 uncle Mr. William Stell (Rebecca); aunts, Mrs. Imogene Moreland (French), Mrs. Maizie Orr (Clyde); and host of nieces, nephews, other relatives, and friends.
Date: Sunday, November 17, 2019
Time: 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Date: Monday, November 18, 2019
Time: 11:00 am
New Hope Baptist Church
Address:5002 South Central Expressway, Dallas, TX, 75215