Turner, Dr. Mrs. Alice B.S.

A black and white photograph of Dr Alice Turner, taken when she was 37.
Bust photograph of Dr. Alice B.S. Turner from 1896, taken in Black and White. Source: en.wikipedia.org
A black and white photo of Dr Alice Turner at age 56.
Bust photograph of Dr. Alice B.S. Turner from 1915, taken in Black and White. Source: en.wikipedia.org

Dr. Mrs. Alice B.S. Turner


Alice Bellvadore Sams Turner was one of the founders of the Colfax Public Library, a trustee for 23 years, and president of the board from 1903 to 1915.[1] As the writer of “A Brief Story of the Life of Colfax’s Leading Citizen, Dr. Alice Turner,” put it, “She was the original promoter of the Colfax free public library of 4500 volumes and it is due to her indefatigable, persistent and intelligent leadership that the library was finally provided a home in the elegant structure on Division and Locust streets.”[2] Alice B. Sams was born March 13, 1859, at Greencastle, Jasper County, Iowa, the daughter of John and Susan Emaline (Humphreys) Sams, who came to Iowa in 1853.[3] She grew to adulthood in the Greencastle community, later attending Lincoln University, at Lincoln, Illinois; Simpson College, at Indianola, Iowa; and the Mitchell Seminary, at Mitchellville, Iowa.[4] For a time she taught school in Jasper and Shelby Counties in Iowa.[5] She studied medicine under Dr. J. J. M. Angear, of Keokuk, Iowa[6], receiving her M. D. degree, February 26, 1884, from the College of Physicians & Surgeons, at Keokuk.[7] She was a student of psychology, suggestive therapeutics, occult science, sociology, and political economy. She was an advocate of woman suffrage, and, in 1895, was the first woman in Colfax to cast a vote.[8] On October 21, 1878, she was married to Dr. Lewis C. S. Turner (1854-1915).[9] They were the parents of two children, Vera (Mrs. J. Warner) Preston (b. 1881) and Carroll J. Turner (b. 1893).[10] The Drs. Turner practiced their profession together in Colfax from 1882 to 1911.[11] They had a “bathing house” in connection with their practice.[12] In 1903-04, they conducted the Victoria Sanatorium and Hotel, and the Colfax Rest Home and Water Cure (later known as the Turner Sanitarium and Rest Home) from 1905 to 1911 in Colfax.[13] Dr. Turner was a member since April 1903, of the Iowa Society of Medical Women. She was the first woman admitted to membership in the Iowa Public Health Association. She was also the first woman health officer in Iowa, in Colfax (1886-87).[14] She was the author of a history of Colfax.[15] Dr. Turner was interested in Modern Spiritualism.[16] She was a Unitarian[17], a U. S. Daughter of 1812[18], a charter member of Chapter BA of P. E. O.[19], a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Woman’s Relief Corps, and the Order of the Eastern Star.[20] In 1893, she was selected for inclusion in A Woman of the Century, one of only 1,470 women in the United States to be accorded this honor.[21] In the summer of 1914, “prominent physicians of Chicago” informed her “that it would be impossible for an operation of the cancerous growth which has developed so as to cut off all passage between the throat and stomach.”[22] She died at her home in Colfax July 10, 1915 from carcinoma of the stomach.[23] Dr. Turner is buried alongside her husband in the Colfax Cemetery.[24]

-Larry Ray Hurto

[1] Iowa Library Quarterly, April-June, 1915, p. 160.
[2] No date, from Mrs. Turner’s notebooks. Colfax Public Library.
[3] Gen. James B. Weaver, ed., Past and Present of Jasper County, Iowa, Vol. I (Indianapolis, IN: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1912), p. 484.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid. Shortly after her marriage she left for Harlan, Iowa, “near which place she is to teach during the coming winter.” Newton Journal, October 24, 1878.
[6] Past and Present of Jasper County, Iowa, pp. 484-485.
[7] Winona Evans Reeves, ed., The Blue Book of Iowa Women; A History of Contemporary Women (Mexico, MO: Press of the Missouri Printing and Publishing Company, 1914), p. 212.
[8] Ibid. Dr. Mrs. Turner attended a meeting of the National Women’s Suffrage Association in Des Moines January 27, 1897. The Weekly Clipper, Colfax, IA, January 29, 1897. Judy Sullivan says the vote was cast in the election of 1904. Judy Sullivan, “Dr. Alice Bellvadore (Sams) Turner,” October 2014. Paper read at the October 7, 2014 meeting of Colfax La Femme Woman’s Club. Her source most likely is “A Brief Story of the Life of Colfax’s Leading Citizen, Dr. Alice Turner,” which states it was a “school election involving a tax proposition in 1904.” No date, from Mrs. Turner’s notebooks.
[9] Past and Present of Jasper County, Iowa, p. 485.
[10] The Blue Book of Iowa Women, p. 212.
[11] Dr. Mrs. Turner spent two years, from 1898 to 1900, in Chicago. Past and Present of Jasper County, Iowa, p. 485. The Newton Daily Record, July 22, 1898, says the Drs. Turner moved there in the fall of 1898 “in order to educate their daughter.”
[12] The Weekly Clipper, July 10, 1896.
[13] Lee Schmitt, The History of the Victoria Sanitarium in Colfax, Iowa Before 1940 (n. d.), pp. 15-17; Lee Schmitt, The History of the Rest Home in Colfax, Iowa (1993), pp. 1-2; Lee Schmitt, The Doctors Porter and Colfax (1993), pp. 2-3.
[14] The Blue Book of Iowa Women, p. 212.
[15] Ibid. As far as is known the work was never published. The Colfax Public Library has Mrs. Turner’s notebooks of clippings.
[16] At the celebration of the Thirty-Seventh Anniversary of Modern Spiritualism, by the Union Society of Spiritualists of Central Iowa, in Colfax, March 31, 1885, Dr. Mrs. Turner addressed “the disciples of that belief” on the subject, “Am I Led Astray, or Are Things as They Seem to Me?” The Weekly Clipper, March 28, 1885 and April 4, 1885. She later became secretary of a newly organized society of Jasper County spiritualists. Newton Herald, August 4, 1893.
[17] The Blue Book of Iowa Women, p. 212. She attended the State Unitarian Conference at Iowa City November 18-20, 1896. The Weekly Clipper, November 20, 1896.
[18] The Blue Book of Iowa Women, p. 212. She was elected a member of the board of directors of the Daughters of 1812, at the annual meeting at Council Bluffs, Iowa, April 7, 1913. The Colfax Clipper, April 17, 1913.
[19] The Blue Book of Iowa Women, p. 212. Ila Mae Sprouse, “P. E. O.,” in Colfax, Iowa, Sesquicentennial, 1866-2016, p. 25, gives her charter membership. Dr. Turner attended the Supreme Council at St. Louis, which convened September 26, 1911 and continued four days. The Newton Journal, October 11, 1911.
[20] The Blue Book of Iowa Women, p. 212.
[21] Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century (Buffalo, NY: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893), p. 727.
[22] January 7, 1915, from Mrs. Turner’s notebooks.
[23] Journal of Iowa State Medical Society, August, 1915, p. 348.
[24] Jasper County Genealogical Society, comp., Jasper County, Iowa, Cemeteries: Washington Township, Colfax Cemetery (Des Moines: Iowa Genealogical Society, 1996), p. 860.