The following is the outline of Adella’s life, interspersed with her quotes. She spent most of her life living in Dallas andworked hard to make it a better place to be.
-Women and the Creation of Urban Life
-Born in 1856 in rural East Texas, outside Marshall
-Orphaned at an early age and raised in Jefferson by a music teacher and German immigrant. She helped with his classes until…
-Married in 1879 and moved to Dallas, booming because:
-1872, Dallas gets a bridge (thanks to Sarah Cockrell) and a railway
“The coming of the railroads was by no means a natural event. William H Gaston and other business leaders plotted and schemed, arrogantly tricked the legislature, and obsequiously bribed the railroad companies with rights-of-way through Dallas, gifts of money, and grants of land.”
-1886, joins the Standard Club, meant for a “better acquaintance of general literature.” She quickly becomes a leader
-1897, helps to create the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs. Signals a shift away from literature; “voted to forego bird plumage on hats and try to influence legislation through husbands” beginning with advocating for child labor laws
-1899 Creates the Oak Cliff Improvement Society, throws a party on her front yard to fundraise for the creation of the Oak Cliff Cemetery
“We moved to a place at the corner of Ninth and Ewing in Oak Cliff. At the time there was no plan of garbage removal, and tin cans were an eyesore, while alleys were most unattractive. A group of Oak Cliff women organized the Oak Cliff Improvement Society in 1899, with four objects- sanitation, beautification, kindergarten and social. We worked ten years for the purchase of Marsalis Park, and our early efforts on behalf of Oak Cliff have never lost their appeal.” Marsalis Park is now ‘Turner Plaza’ at the corner of Marsalis and Jefferson
-1902 Helps to create the Dallas Free Kindergarten Association
-1903 Toothless child labor law is passed by the legislature
Turner elected president of the Dallas AND Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs
“The suggestions from our leading educators for industrial and manual training schools, the effort to devise ways and means for better instruction and more comfortable schoolhouses, are matters of vital interest. The greater attention given to the unfortunate and physically afflicted, that the necessary provision may be made for their development for useful citizenship. The reaching out after our willful and wayward youth by the establishing of juvenile courts- are not these worth considering? We should study these propositions, and as all measures of reform are brought about by men and women whose souls are keenly alive to the necessity of bettering unsatisfactory conditions, we should be ready to decide after earnest deliberations what is best.
Let us cultivate a nobler patriotism, for it leads to good citizenship. The science of civics does not begin nor end with the planting of trees, beautifying of parks, etc., though this is a very important part of the work. The influence of the good women upon the representatives of our homes to induce them to register and take the time and trouble to vote, in order that good men may be elected to fill offices of trust and to help these voters to rightly appreciate their privileges as citizens.
The importance of the kindergarten, of industrial science, how to do things properly for our physical well-being, have not received the necessary attention. We will place ourselves in touch with all moving forces for good that we may feel the vibrations and discern what is best for our town, our country, and have convictions strong enough to work in such a way as to dignify labor. We should not be content to enjoy our obsessions alone, our learning and higher nature alone, but look to the needs of the less fortunate; and while beckoning them on provide a way for them to follow.”
Creates a citywide clean-up day with the cooperation of the Mayor that subsequently gets the attention of the governor
Created a committee to investigate the city jail that led to the creation of a Juvenile Court, first in Dallas and then, by 1907, throughout the state. The city federation is actively involved for years to come in paying for the program, first paying the salary of a police matron and juvenile probation officer until 1910, when it’s added to the city budget
“We began agitation for a juvenile court that year, after seeing little boys held in the city prison at the old City Hall, located where the Adolphus Hotel now stands. We worked with three sessions of the Legislature to secure passage of two bills, one for delinquent children and one for dependent children, both kinds to be housed in a detention home instead of being held in jail, whether guilty or not guilty of crime.”
“The juvenile court law and the law applicable to delinquent children, which for years was a forlorn hope, has become a reality through the genius and moral courage of the women of Texas.” –Judge E.B. Muse
-1906 Forms the Dallas Women’s Forum, “the largest club in the US for a time” :
“This is a day of strength in federation, in centralization. When Dallas was a small town a few clubs for women answered the demand, but now that she is a city, and a growing city, the Forum is an absolute necessity.
The name Forum is suggestive of the Forum of the Romans. While the Roman fathers studied and tried cases in which only men were concerned, the Dallas Forum will be composed of women, on whom rests a responsibility of which Roman fathers had no conception.
Men are what women make them, and if our legislative bodies, if our trusts and corporations are all wrong, women are to blame. Let mothers train their boys with a strong sense of man’s obligations in his life as a citizen, and then he will do his duty. As soon as woman arouses herself to a conception of her duty as a wife, mother and educator, so soon as she realizes what home means to the nation, then she will begin to purify existing conditions. Corrupt legislators reflect on the mothers of our country, for woman has the direction of man’s earliest inclinations, and as the child is inclined under the mother’s hand, so the men of these mothers act in legislative halls, in great trusts and corporations.
Thus the Dallas Woman’s Forum offers not only classes for mental culture, but its main object is to create a center where women, active in thought and deed, can meet to study and discuss every question that concerns the life of Dallas: the life that starts always from the home, of which woman is the head.
The endeavor of the Dallas Woman’s Forum is to study and correct wrongs and abuses wherever woman’s influence is needed. To work in harmony does not mean to compromise with anything little, mean or wrong, with any violation of trust; our work is not to compromise, but to harmonize.”
-By December of the same year, the Forum’s mobilization resulted in the passage of a pure food and drug ordinance and appointment of a city chemist
-By the next year, she was mobilizing the state Federation to do the same statewide
-1908, runs for Dallas School board with the full support of the city’s political establishment, in part because of deference to social standards:
“This is not in any sense a political movement. How can it be, when we, like all good citizens, stand for divorcement of school interests from politics? Our candidates have been put out independently, and in opposition to no man or set of men. Our platform is the very broad one: the welfare of the child”
-Turner won handily (the other woman won by 36 votes). In her first meeting, she began advocating for smaller class sizes. Unfortunately, she could not accomplish much because the school district was not yet independent of the city, which did not support increased expenditures for it’s schools. They were, however, able to improve the school lunch menu from “candy and chili to better balanced meals.”
“I held conferences with all school janitors and taught them how to sweep the floors.”
-1909 Trinity Play Park is built and paid for by Dallas clubwomen
-1908-1913 “long and sometimes bitter struggle” for the creation of a water filtration plant for Dallas
-1911 The State Fair institutes ‘Forum Day’ for talks on women’s issues organized by the Forum
-1912 : “Personally, she said she did not care for the right of suffrage, but in a general way she thought it would be a good thing, because as the laws now stand women have no rights in Texas”
-1917: “I believe in equal suffrage because I believe in preparedness. Women now realize the responsibility that is theirs because of way and bravely do they shoulder it. But how much more efficient might they be had they been trained in city, county, state and national politics.
I am happy that our president has called us for service to our government as we have for many years given service side by side with men in schools, stores, factories and other business or professional life.
I believe equal suffrage will bring to women better pay, better hours, and the development that comes when women are helped by women.
Is there a woman who would be recreant to her duty who would say to herself: “I’ll have nothing to do with politics because of the corruption of those who participate.” No. She would at once set herself to purify and weed out the objectionable members.
Members are conservative and not so adventurous as men and would prove a complement to man in this and other ways. Woman has proven her efficiency in many positions of trust. Give her responsibility and she will use it with credit and honor to her country.”
-1918 Pike Park is built and paid for by Dallas clubwomen in Little Mexico. Unlike Little Mexico itself, it still stands today
-1919 Steps down from the presidency of the Dallas Women’s Forum, returns to the presidency of the Dallas Federation of Women’s Clubs: “During the first five months of her term, the Federation endorsed a Fire Prevention Bill, established a new nursery, sponsored a scholarship for working girls’ education, appealed to the commissioners’ court for a home for dependent and delinquent boys and girls, sent a campaign donation for the suffrage amendment, supported the Dallas Suffrage Association, and created a committee to confer with the mayor concerning the appointment of more police women.” Then she worked for two years to create a camp for girls on Bachman Lake.
Simultaneously, she becomes one of the first women appointed to the City Health Board, a position she held for four years
-1921 Steps down from the presidency of DFWC to form the Women’s Good Citizenship Association:
“This association was organized that the women may study through it the duties of citizenship: that they may make of themselves better citizens and that they may exercise better the right of citizenship when the time comes.”
-1926 Organized the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts. She was President until she died in 1938.
-Upon her death, her sons donated her home on 324 Marsalis to the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts. It was sold and demolished for construction of I-35E. The new “Turner House” was purchased from proceeds of the sale
-Regent at Texas State College for Women at Denton (now Texas Women’s University)
-“Instrumental in establishment of the educational program at the boys’ reformatory at Gatesville and a leader in establishing the girls’ training school at Gainesville”
-Her and her husband were Unitarians. I think that means they’d like our church.
“Mr. Turner always encouraged me in my work. He took a personal interest in women’s work in Texas and was elected an honorary member of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, before I was elected president.”
Questions: What do we call Mrs. Turner? Her “real” name is Adella, but she self-identified as E.P. from her marriage to her death (her husband also went from calling himself “Ed” to “E.P.,” suggesting a kind of equality). Do we go with what our present sense of identity politics tells us or what the person chooses for themselves?
All of Adella K. “E.P.” Turner’s work was made possible by her enormous wealth and privilege. How do we honor her in a way that galvanizes us to leverage our own privilege for good without lionizing the possession of privilege itself?
Turner’s words, while revolutionary for their time, still traffic in gender binaries we want to move away from. How can we hold up the advancements made by Turner and her fellow “clubwomen” without perpetuating those same stereotypes? Put another way, should we pursue a “women’s history” or should it all just be history?
Turner fought for things we now take for granted as a service of government (universal kindergarten, juvenile courts, water filtration, etc) and often convinced the powers that be to implement them only after spending years paying for such services themselves. As we work for systemic change, when does it become necessary to take a short-term solution and provide services ourselves?
Turner’s run for school board was predicated on being a mother. My hope is that even without kids in the school system, we all take an interest in the workings of our local school board, but what, if any, are the times in which the will of mothers (or parents) should be deferred to, specifically?
Benediction: “To work together successfully we must have something of the divine element. We have to open our minds to all phases, to try to see the good and avoid the evil in every moment of the day. We are not spectators in life merely, we are actors. Then let us strive always to act nobly, in the spirit of universal justice and love.”