© 2023 KRCU Public Radio
90.9 Cape Girardeau | 88.9-HD Ste. Genevieve 88.7 Poplar Bluff
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Almost Yesterday: Dr. Lee Turley

Dr. Turley and his old horse, Joe.

It seems like Almost Yesterday that Dr. Lee Turley was delivering babies and providing medical care to the residents of St. Francois County Missouri.

For over 45 years, from 1890 to 1935, Dr. Turley became one of those legendary family doctors who became both physician and friend to three generations – and hundreds of families.

Dr. Turley was born in 1862 and raised on a farm north and west of Bonne Terre.  His grandfather, Aaron Turley, was one of the early settlers of St. Francois County, and his father, William Wesley Turley, fought with the Union Army during the Civil War. 

Lee Turley was educated in the rural, public schools of St. Francois County, attended the University of Missouri in Columbia, and in 1890 received a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Missouri School of Medicine which was, at the time, in St. Louis. 

Within a few months of receiving his medical degree, the young Dr. Turley returned home to Bonne Terre and opened his office.  For the next 45 years, he served the farmers, miners and citizens of the area.

For over half of his long career, Dr. Turley made his rounds on horseback, regularly summoned to homes where lives were just beginning, or, frequently, coming to an end.  By his own records, he delivered over 6,500 babies, about 150 per year, including one 24 hour period when he delivered seven infants in seven different families.

Dr. Turley died in 1935, and his community newspaper acknowledged that while his death would attract little world-wide attention, but for the people of St. Francois County Missouri, Dr. Lee Turley had been “an angel of mercy to mankind.”

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
Latest Episodes