Jane Blaffer Owen: Endowing Utopia


Jane Blaffer Owen (1915-2010) of Houston, Texas, was the daughter of Robert Lee Blaffer (Exxon) and Sarah Campbell Blaffer (Texaco). Her early education took place in Texas, Connecticut and Maryland and she later attended the Washington School of Diplomacy, Union Theological Seminary in New York and studied under Theologian Paul Tillich.

In 1941, Jane Blaffer and Kenneth Dale Owen married. A petroleum geologist by profession, her husband was also a descendant of Robert Owen, the Welsh social reformer who founded a utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana.

Shortly after their marriage, Kenneth introduced his wife to the village that was first established as a spiritual sanctuary. Later it became a haven for international scientists, scholars, and educators who were advocates of equality. That introduction to New Harmony began Jane Owen’s life-long advocacy for the historic utopian community, which she adopted as her own.

In 1958, Jane Blaffer Owen established the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust, later to become the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation, honoring her late father. Her spiritual and artistic development, commitment to preservation, and promotion of the town’s historical and educational attributes became her 60-year legacy.

During that time, Jane Blaffer Owen brought some of the greatest minds and artists to the challenge of restoring New Harmony structures and renewing its spirit:

– she commissioned Philip Johnson to design the Roofless Church
– orchestrated the building of architect Richard Meier’s Atheneum, which serves as the New Harmony Visitors Center
– created the MacLeod Barn Abbey as a spiritual retreat center
– inspired and supported the restoration of the historic Rapp-Owen Granary
– encouraged spiritual awakening with the installation of Cathedral Labyrinth, built for meditation and prayer

Through her generous activism for historic preservation, intellectual ventures and artistic gifts, New Harmony was transformed.

In recognition of Jane Blaffer Owen’s service, she was awarded Honorary Doctorates of Arts and Humanities from University of Southern Indiana, Kenyon College, Ball State University and Butler Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Letters from Purdue University. She was presented the Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award by National Trust for Historic Preservation and given the esteemed Sachem Award by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. She was named Commander of the British Empire, by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. She was the proud mother of three daughters.

It’s said that her legacy may also be found in the faith she demonstrated, the friendships she forged, the beauty she created, the enthusiasm she espoused, and the simple way in which she lived. The Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation continues to support the causes she loved.

Jane Blaffer Owen and Paul Tillich
Jane Blaffer Owen