Partner Stewart Mitchell, buried together
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, Stati Uniti
Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA
Richard David Cowan (1909 - October 23, 1939) was the lover of Stewart Mitchell and committed suicide on October 23, 1939.
Cowan grew up in Albany and went to Cornell, where he spent his first three years mostly socializing with fellow students and going to fraternity parties. Just before his 19 birthday he met Stewart Mitchell, an editor of the literary magazine the Dial, whom he began to see regularly and who helped him with his college expenses.
Right after Christmas 1932, Cowan met a younger man at Symphony Hall and dated him for a short time. Through that man, he met another Dartmouth student, George, and dated him. Cowan loved Mitchell but had no desire to commit to monogamy. George was a friend of Congressman A. Piatt Andrew, who was staying at the Statler Hotel one night when George introduced him to Cowan. George and Andrew wanted to have sex with Cowan, but he declined. Andrew was too old for Cowan's taste, being 36 years his senior. It turned out that Mitchell was a distant relative of Andrew and was in Gloucester frequently because he had a house of his own there. Cowan went on to befriend Andrew and he had dinner at Andrew's Gloucester home multiples times. Cowan was introduced to another friend of George's at the Ritz, but again he declined the offer of a tryst as the friend was too old.
Next Cowan met a singer from the Monarch Club, whom Cowan had seen at the Copley Theatre once before. At one point, Cowan got drunk and told the man he loved him. Another time he met a man in the lobby of a theatre. Cowan was staying at the Somerset Hotel that night but because Mitchell was there, he took him back to his apartment on Plympton St in Cambridge.
We can get a glimpse into middle-class gay worlds through the life of Richard Cowan, who graduated from Cornell University in 1933 and went to live in Boston at the invitation of Stewart Mitchell. Mitchell rented Cowan an apartment, and Cowan wrote in his diary that “I love S. very much,” but he added that he was “incapable of being true to anyone person.” He recorded his encounters with young men he met at the Symphony or the Copley Theatre or the Boston Public Garden: Met a Dartmouth boy on the Common one night after the Symphony. His name was Jack . . . . He was a bit obvious but I liked him. He claimed he loved me etc. Stayed at his home one Saturday night while visiting some friends of his I met George, a Dartmouth boy . . . . He called me the next day & I went to the movies, with him—and that started that. I think I really did love him at first and he—very passionately—said he loved me.
Cowan was friends with Gerald Murphy and Sara Wiborg Murphy, a friendship that began after Cowan's 1934 summer trip to Europe, when Cowan and his then companion, Dudley Poore, were invited to sail from Antibes on the Murphy's yacht. An affectionate friendship developed between Cowan, a landscape architect, and Murphy, in which they collaborated on selecting plantings for Murphy's estate in East Hampton, Long Island.
After decades of suffering from depression, Cowan's life came to a sad end when he committed suicide at Mitchell's Gloucester home. Mitchell was devastated and though he received dozens of condolence letters, he sank into alcoholism.
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Improper Bostonians Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland By History Project Staff · 1998