Dr. Deborah Turner, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States and a passionate advocate for voting rights and women’s rights her entire life, was to present “Visionary Activism: How To Get From Here to There” on Feb. 13, 2024, as the 2024 Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics, but passed away on Jan. 28, 2024. The Catt Center was honored when she accepted the invitation to be the 2024 Mary Louise Smith Chair, and she will continue to hold that title posthumously.
Turner, who also served as chair of the Board of Trustees of the League of Women Voters Education Fund, was elected LWVUS board president at their national convention in June 2022. She joined the Des Moines Metropolitan League of Women Voters in 2010, serving both as president of that chapter and as vice president of the League of Women Voters of Iowa board from 2011-2015 and becoming co-president of that board in 2015. She was elected to the League’s national board of directors in 2016, where she served on the Finance and Governance committees and chaired the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. As chair of the DEI Committee, Turner and her colleagues focused on organizational culture and changes to the League’s mission work, emphasizing not only racial equity but also intergenerational dynamics, socioeconomic differences, gender identity, and interpersonal engagement.
Turner received her Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University and her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Iowa, where she completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology. She completed her fellowship in gynecologic oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. She practiced gynecologic oncology for 35 years, enhancing university programs at the University of Nebraska, University of Iowa, and Medical College of Wisconsin, teaching residents and students. She also served the private sector in Iowa at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport, Mercy Cancer Center in Mason City, and Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines.
In 2007, Turner received her Juris Doctor from Drake University.
Turner participated in twelve medical missions to Tanzania since 2011, and in July 2015 she left active practice to become vice president of international programs for the Outreach Program. She served as associate medical director of Planned Parenthood of North Central States from 2016-2022.
Widely recognized for her work, Turner was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013 and received the Gertrude Rush Award from the National Bar Association in 2015. She was awarded the Louise Noun Visionary Women of the Year award from Young Women’s Resource Center Des Moines in 2018. Her most treasured award is a certificate from the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care. In 2022, Fortune Magazine named her a “Marquis Who’s Who” top professional for her work with the League of Women Voters.
The lecture was co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Committee on Lectures (funded by Student Government).
The Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics was established in 1995 to honor the Iowa native and longtime political and civic leader. Smith – the first woman to chair the Republican National Committee – was a mentor, friend and role model to many in the world of politics and civic, government and community affairs.
The purpose of the chair is to bring nationally known political leaders, scholars and activists to Iowa State to enrich the experiences of students and educate citizens about the role of women in the political process.