Charles Henry Turner (zoologist)

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Charles Henry Turner
Charles Henry Turner.jpg
Charles Henry Turner aged about 35
BornFebruary 3, 1867
DiedFebruary 14, 1923 (1923-02-15) (aged 56)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Cincinnati
Scientific career

Charles Henry Turner (February 3, 1867 – February 14, 1923) was an American research biologist, educator, zoologist, and comparative psychologist born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Turner was the first African American to receive a graduate degree at the University of Cincinnati and the most likely the first African American to earn a PhD from the University of Chicago.[1] He is known for his studies in comparative psychology and on insect behavior, particularly bees and ants. He spent most of his career as a high school teacher in Sumner High School in St. Louis.[2]


Personal life[edit]

Turner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 3, 1867. Notably, his birth came two years after the end of the Civil War. He was born to parents Thomas Turner and Addie Campbell, a church custodian and nurse, respectively. He was married to Ms. Leontine Troy (1886) and the couple had three children; Henry Owen Turner (1892–1956), Louise Mae Turner (birth date unknown), and Darwin Romanes Turner (1894–1893). After the death of his first wife, Leontine Troy in 1895, Turner remarried Ms. Lillian Porter Turner sometime between 1907 and 1908. The two remained married until Turner's death in 1923. He died on February 14, 1923 from acute myocarditis in Chicago.[3] His place of interment is Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.[1] He is the paternal grandfather of Boston City Councillor and community organizer Chuck Turner.[4]

Academic career[edit]

In 1886, Charles Henry Turner graduated valedictorian of Woodard High School, marking the beginning of his academic career. He began college at the University of Cincinnati in 1886 and graduated with B.S. degree in biology in 1891. During his undergraduate education, he was mentored by early comparative psychologist and biologist, Clarence L. Herrick. A summary of his undergraduate thesis was published in the journal Science in 1891. Tuner earned his M.S. degree in 1892 from the University of Cincinnati under his undergraduate advisor, Clarence L. Herrick.[1]

After earning his master's degree from the University of Cincinnati, Turner's career was markedly plagued. He did hold a few academic positions before settling on the high school teaching that dominated most of his career. Immediately after earning his M.S., Turner served as an assistant instructor in the biology laboratory at the University of Cincinnati until 1893. Turner began a PhD at Denison University from 1893–1894, but the program was discontinued. He attained a professorship in the Science Department at Clark University, where he also served as the Chair of the Science Department. Tuner-Tanner Hall at Clark is now named in his honor (sa). Sources fail to determine his length of service, but it is estimated that he was at Clark sometime between 1893 until 1905. The years Abramson provides for Turner's time at Denison and at Clark conflict, but most sources on Turner rely heavily on Abramson's work.[1]

After his time at Clark University, Turner had his first career experience at a high school in 1906 when he obtained a position as the principle of College Hill High School in Cleveland, Tennessee. He then resigned the position in order to pursue a professorship in biology and chemistry at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia in 1907. During this period of time, Turner pursued his PhD in zoology at the University of Chicago. He spent the 1906/1907 academic year and the summer of 1906 working on his degree before graduating magna cum laude in 1907. He was advised by zoologists Charles M. Child, Frank R. Lillie, and Charles O. Whitman.[1]

In 1908, Turner gained a teaching position at Sumner high school, where he remained until his retirement in 1922, due to ill health. It is somewhat contested whether Turner chose to teach in high school or if he unable to find a permanent position in academia. Between 1893–1908, Turner applied for a position at the Tuskegee Institute. Charles I. Abramson, in his 2003 article on Turner for American Bee Journal, claims that Turner was unable, rather than unwilling, to get an appointment at the University of Chicago, and that the Tuskegee Institute could not afford his salary.[1]

Scientific contributions[edit]

Turner published 49 papers on invertebrates, including "Habits of Mound-Building Ants", "Experiments on the Color Vision of the Honeybee", "Hunting Habits of an American Sand Wasp", and "Psychological Notes on the Gallery Spider". A large amount of Turner's research was conducted while he was teaching high school classes at Sumner. While at Sumner, he published 41 papers between 1908 and his death. Notably, Turner published three times in the journal Science.[1] In his research, Turner became the first person to prove that insects can hear and can distinguish pitch. In addition, he first discovered that cockroaches can learn by trial and error and that honeybees can see color and patterns.

Turner conducted a large majority of his bee research at O’Fallon Park in North St. Louis, Missouri.[5]

Other contributions[edit]

Besides his scientific work, Turner was active in the struggle to obtain social and educational services for African Americans in St. Louis, Missouri. Two years after his death, The Charles Henry Turner Open Air School for Crippled Children was founded. The school was later renamed as Turner Middle School.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Abramson, Charles I. (January 2009). "A Study in Inspiration: Charles Henry Turner (1867–1923) and the Investigation of Insect Behavior". Annual Review of Entomology. 54 (1): 343–359. doi:10.1146/annurev.ento.54.110807.090502. ISSN 0066-4170. PMID 18817509.
  2. ^ "Charles Henry Turner". Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  3. ^ "Springer Reference", SpringerReference, Springer-Verlag, 2011, doi:10.1007/springerreference_85286 |chapter= ignored (help)
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b DNLee. "Charles Henry Turner, Animal Behavior Scientist". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2018-12-07.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]