Sarale Alice Owens, 59, a former official of the Young Women's Christian Association who later spent 12 years in Africa for the Committee of Correspondence and then for the U.S. Information Serivce, died of cancer Thursday at George Washington University Hospital.

Miss Owens first went to Africa in 1961 as a representative of the Committee of Correspondence, a private organization concerned with women's rights in Africa. She lived in Uganda and Nigeria, and then joined USIS in 1964.

She spent the next seven years in Nigeria and Kenya and was the cultural affairs officer in the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. In 1968, she received the Meritorious Service Award of the U.S. Information Agency, as USIS is called here.

In 1973, Miss Owens was assigned to Washington and was a program development officer in the USIA office of policy and plans.

A native of Newbern, Ala., she grew up in North Carolina and Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1941 and then moved to New York, where she worked for the YWCA and earned a master's degree from New York University.

From 1945 to 1947, she was assistant dean of women at Howard University in Washington. She spent the next two years as executive director of student affairs at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. She then returned to the YWCA and worked in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.When she left the organization in 1961, she was policy and development officer for the organization's central regions, which takes in the Midwest.

Since coming to Washington in 1973, Miss Owens had been active in the Baha'i Faith. She was head of the D.C. Baha'i executive council for two years and was an incument member of the council.

Survivors include a sister, Mrs. Roy Allen, of New York, and a brother, Dr. James A. Peal, of San Francisco.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society or to the Emergency Serivce for African Students of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, Washington, D.C.