Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mabel Margaret Walker Turner, 1888-1964
By Dr. Jillian Hartley, Professor of History, Arkansas Northeastern College
Mabel Margaret Walker Turner was born in 1888, in Shelby County, Tennessee, and passed away there in 1964. She was the youngest of seven children of George Kells Walker and Sarah Ann “Sallie” Cooper. George was a farmer whose land was located outside Memphis city limits. Mabel's siblings were Mary, George, Sallie, Parks, Cooper, and Kate. The family were members of a Methodist church. Turner attended White Station Grammar School and Memphis High School where she graduated with her diploma at the age of sixteen.
Because of the lack of higher educational institutions in the Memphis area, Mabel Walker attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She took courses in English, foreign languages, and science. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1908. She met her future husband, Sterling “Aubrey” Turner, at the university. Turner was a native of Hardy, Arkansas, and the two married in 1912. The couple resided for a short time in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas before moving to Hardy. Sterling went to work for his father, Sterling Price Turner, in Turner Mercantile. The couple lived in a large home, known as Oakwoood Place, which was built by Sterling Price in 1906. The house had six bedrooms, an indoor bathroom, and a beautiful view of the Spring River. Aubrey and Mabel had five children, Haiden George, Frances Ann, Margaret Lois, Katherine Lee, and Josephine “Jo” Aubrey.
Turner was invited to join the Political Equality League (PEL) in 1914, when the organization recognized that it was time to support the establishment of the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association. The PEL formed in 1911 in Little Rock and was the catalyst that brought major changes to the primary election process in the state, eventually aiding in rallying support for the Nineteenth Amendment. To gain momentum, women from different parts of the state championed the cause. PEL efforts led to women gaining the right to vote in state primary elections in 1918. In 1919, Arkansas became the twelfth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. With the achievement of women's suffrage, the organization disbanded.
Turner's husband, Aubrey, served during World War I. Although he was never deployed overseas, he gained the rank of second lieutenant in a machine gun company. After the war, Aubrey Turner continued supporting the family by working at his father's store and as a cashier and bookkeeper at the Farmers Bank in Hardy. In the mid-1920s, Mabel joined the Timely Club along with her sisters-in-law. This women's club met regularly to study timely topics and coordinate community projects. Raising her children and engaging in civic activities, Turner's life was forever changed in January of 1928, when Aubrey died at the age of 41, leaving her a widow.
After her husband's death, Turner moved her children back to the Memphis area to be near her family. Her father, George, died in 1929, and her brothers continued farming. She and the children moved into a small five-room house that was near her brothers, Cooper and Parks. In a letter to R.S. Biggers in 1929, she explained, “The children are all well and fine, and are in a good school and are working away.” She and her children found a church family at a small Methodist congregation near the family home. Her son Haiden helped on the family farm, baling hay and picking cotton. She managed rental property and made clothes for her children. Several years later, she built a four-bedroom house using house plans from a popular magazine. She continued her interest in politics, worked at the polls during elections, and did some tutoring in the later years of her life. She was an active member of the United Methodist Women at Mullins Methodist Church and led Bible studies. She was also a member of the American Association of University Women and enjoyed attending book club meetings.
Turner dedicated her life to her family. She tragically lost her daughter, Frances Ann, who died of peritonitis in 1931. Although she did relocate the children after her husband's death, they continued to have close ties to Hardy. Margaret, Katherine, and Jo returned to serve as counselors at Camp Miramichee for several years and Haiden served as a counselor at the YMCA camp in Mammoth Spring. Haiden was a teacher and school principal before being drafted into the Army during World War II. He served in Europe and later in the Korean War. Margaret was a teacher before enlisting in the Navy WAVES during World War II. Katherine become a registered nurse and Jo a medical technologist. Like their mother before them, they raised and nurtured children of their own.
Cahill, Bernadette. Arkansas Women and the Right to Vote: The Little Rock Campaigns: 1868-1920. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2015.
Letter from Mabel Walker Turner to R. S, Biggers, October 26, 1929, University Libraries Special Collections, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922.
Rollberg, Jeanne Norton. “Political Equality League.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Information from www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net. Accessed May 5, 2018.
The Timely Club. The Hardy History. Chicago: Riverside Graphics, 1980.
US Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900-Population. Ancestry.com website.
_____. Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910.
_____. Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920.
_____. Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930.
Wright, Josephine. Interviews with Jillian Hartley. April-May, 2018.