Feb 012024

Author Bart McDowell (1923-2009), who later became a senior editor of National Geographic magazine, first visited Ajijic in 1952. Born in Texas on 10 September 1923, Hobart (‘Bart’) K. McDowell Jr. graduated with a degree in political science from the University of California before completing a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri.

McDowell worked for the Rotarian magazine for several years, did some freelance writing and photography, served as an officer in the US Navy (1943-1946), and traveled widely in Europe and South America before marrying Martha Louise Shea (1925-2005), a fellow graduate of the University of Missouri, in March 1951.

The following year, the couple visited Ajijic, which they claimed had, at that time, “a population of some 2000 Indians, 40 American families, and one British family,” and was “the place to do some writing and relaxing.” [McDowell’s claim is broadly consistent with the findings of the 1950 Mexican census that Ajijic had a population of 2313, with 42 recorded as foreign-born.]

McDowell family, San Angelo Evening Standard, 1953 (Photo: Franklin)

McDowell family, San Angelo Evening Standard, 1953 (Photo: Franklin)

In February 1953 the McDowells, together with their three-month-old baby, Kelly, left Chicago, where they were then living and returned to Ajijic for a six month stay, during which McDowell hoped to complete a book about his travels in South America. His wife planned to do some freelance writing and improve her Spanish, and was “looking forward… to escaping that little black monster which is almost a necessity in the States-the telephone. There is only one in the entire village and it’s not in their home.”

Aside: Martha McDowell’s own writing was published in McCall’s, the Washington Post and elsewhere, and she wrote a book on American Indian jewelry. She later founded her own public relations and political consulting firm.

On their return north, Bart McDowell began working for the National Geographic, subsequently serving as one of the magazine’s senior editors for more than thirty years, during which time he traveled to dozens of countries, and met numerous world leaders.

The little we know about the McDowells’ residence in Ajijic in 1953 comes from Bart’s article about Guadalajara for National Geographic based on a visit to the city in 1966. Bart and his son Kelly revisited Ajijic, to look for María, who “figured large in our family folklore as Kelly’s first nursemaid” and who had “fed Kelly bananas from our own garden, bathed him in an earthen tub and called him ‘Baby Mío.’” After seeing a snapshot of María, a group of women sitting in the church immediately identified her as María Vásquez, who lived nearby with her mother and worked for an American family in the village. A delightful and unexpected reunion followed.

The Guadalajara article includes excellent photographs,including some of the lake, by Volkmar Wentzel.

McDowell’s own books include Theodore Roosevelt (1958); Great Adventures with National Geographic: exploring land, sea, and sky (1963); Revolutionary War (1967); Gypsies: Wanderers of the World (1970); The American Cowboy in Life and Legend (1972); Inside The Vatican (1991); and, jointly with Martha McDowell, I was a career girl’s consort (1960).

Bart McDowell died at his home in Forest Heights, Maryland, at the age of 85 on 17 January 2009, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

And Kelly, the infant in Ajijic? Stanford-educated Hobart Kelliston McDowell III (1952-2017) became a business attorney, consultant and politician, and was mayor of El Segundo, California, from 2004 to 2010.

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Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the literary community in Ajijic.


  • San Angelo Evening Standard (San Angelo, Texas) 17 Feb 1953, 4:
  • Bart McDowell. 1967. “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” National Geographic, March 1967, 412-441.
  • The Washington Times. 2009. “National Geographic writer Bart McDowell dies.” (obituary) 25 January 2009.

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  One Response to “After living in Ajijic, Bart McDowell became a senior editor of National Geographic”

  1. Enjoyed–

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