Rowena is on U.S. Highway 67, Farm roads 2872 and 2l33, and the Santa Fe Railroad, eight miles from Ballinger in southwestern Runnels County. The town was laid out in November 1898 by Paul J. Baron, who called the site Baronsville. A railroad section house there was named Rowena Station by railroad officials in 1888, but the post office rejected the name because it resembled that of Ravenna in Fannin County. When Gustav Schuhmann became the first postmaster in 1900, the office was named Bolf for land agent John Bolf. The post office took the name of Rowena in 1901, and local residents persuaded Baron to rename the town Rowena in February 1904; the name was either that of the girlfriend of a son of Jonathan Miles, who helped obtain the railroad extension through the town, or that of the wife of Santa Fe Railroad clerk James Spillane.
Rowena was settled principally by German and Czech Texans from Central Texas. In 1904 the population was fewer than 100, and the town served as a trading point for local farmers and stock raisers. Flourishing cotton production and an influx of immigrants caused a boom by 1908 and a population of between 400 and 600. Rowena had a population of 800 in 1930, then declined to 750 in 1940. Oil and gas were discovered near the town in the 1960s. Rowena is noted as the birthplace of Bonnie Parker, companion of bank robber Clyde Barrow, and was the scene of a bungled bank robbery that made national news in 1968. A Catholic school, St. Joseph's High School, is located in Rowena. The Rowena Independent School District was organized in 1901, but the school closed in 1966, and the district was divided. The town had 446 residents and twenty-one businesses in 1970 and seven businesses and an estimated population of 466 in 1980 through 2000.