Marie Turner Harvey was always ahead of her time. Born in 1912, she became a teacher for the first time at age 15. 

She taught in St. Louis until her marriage to H. Clay Harvey, a teacher at what was then the Missouri Normal School, a teachers' college, and is now Truman State University. Though her marriage did not last, Harvey would make her home in Kirksville and become one of the area’s most prominent women. 

During March, Women’s History Month, the Daily Express is highlighting the stories of women who have made significant contributions to the history of Kirksville and Adair County. 

According to “The Dictionary of Missouri Biography,” Harvey and her husband’s bitter divorce was unusual enough for the time to be covered in the local newspapers. Because of the scandal, they were both dismissed from the Normal School.  

“She concentrated all of her efforts after that into that into being the 'Superwoman' of teachers,” Byltha Ellis, president of the Adair County Historical Society, said. 

Turner was hired at Porter School, a one-room, rural school near Kirksville, and set about transforming it into what Ellis called a “revolutionary” school. 

“She was very practical in her approach to teaching,” Ellis. “She almost invented 4H -- not really, because that was a separate organization, but she had these clubs that students would participate in like Pig Club and Chicken Club, and they had contests and everything. And she got not only students involved, she got the whole community involved.” 

Harvey was part of the progressive education movement, which focused on instructing the whole person instead of memorizing facts. The new approach emphasized hands-on learning, critical thinking, group work and development of social skills and the integration of the school into the broader community -- ideas still prominent in education today. 

Ellis said initially, Harvey’s approach to teaching was unpopular in rural Adair County. 

“It was such a new idea that a lot of the parents, they didn’t like this new teacher that was trying to get them involved with the school, and the men, you know, they weren’t going to go over there and help with the school,” Ellis said. “But it was doing such amazing things for their children that they kind of got on board, gradually, and decided that this was a pretty phenomenal thing that was going on. She got them all on board, somehow.” 

When Harvey wanted modern plumbing installed in her schoolhouse, she enlisted the men of the community to raise it off its foundations so a basement with running water and a bathroom could be added. When Harvey wanted a home near the Porter School, the community built one. 

Many articles praising Harvey’s work and photographs of her school’s events are now preserved at the Adair County Historical Society. Ellis said the community eventually became very involved in Harvey’s educational projects. 

Harvey’s students performed plays, posed for live recreations of political cartoons and played in a band. 

“She developed her own school bus system -- it was a carriage, a long carriage,” Ellis said. “And she rode on it every morning. She had a driver, but she rode on it so she could supervise it. She just devoted her entire life to education.” 

Harvey also gained some fame in her time. Her work with the Porter School was profiled from the example of other educations in the book “New Schools for Old.” In 1922, the “Educational Forum” newsletter praised Harvey by saying, “We know of no other lecture available for associations, institutes and women’s clubs as wholesome, useful and captivating as is Mrs. Harvey’s.” 

Though she had been dismissed from the Normal School, Harvey went on to form a strong partnership with its then-president, John Kirk, and the Porter School served as a model for young aspiring teachers. Eventually, Harvey left the Porter School and returned to teaching at what was then still the Northeast Missouri State Teachers College. 

“The rural life movement and progressive enthusiasm for reforms of all kinds had waned,” “The Dictionary of Missouri Biography” records. “Harvey’s deeper goals of bringing urban amenities to the rural home and thereby keeping the farm population stable proved impossible in the face of societal change. However, these things became apparent only in retrospect. In her time Harvey and Porter School seemed to offer a solution to many problems.” 

In 1924, the national publication “Journal of Education” praised her along with Kirk and H.G. Swanson, chairman of the Normal School’s education department, as “Kirksville’s best.” 

“The Kirk-Swanson-Harvey combination is the greatest single country-life achievement we have known in all our experience,” the Journal wrote.