-Millie Ruth Turner



I have not been able to find much information at all about this nature poet, scientist and educator who published two books of poems about plants and nature for children. I cannot find anything about her birth and death dates or her family, but she was teaching in 1906, so was probably born prior to 1885.

Other than that, I have found a very few references to Millie. One indicates that she was a teacher at Brushton School in Wilkinson, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between the years 1906 and 1912 and that she lived at John street, and there is a John street in East Pittsburgh, PA. In 1915 and 1916 she is listed as teacher at Bellmar school, Pittsburgh.

In the academic year of 1918-1919, she is listed in the Register of Cornell University (Volumes 19-20) as being a summer student. Was this perhaps a graduate program?

She does have an article called "A Potato Beetle Chronicle", dated 8 July 1921 published in The Nature Study Review: Devoted to All Phases of Nature-study in Elementary Schools, Volume 18; Volume 1922, an academic periodical published by Cornell University. This is a report of an observational experiment that she carried out in 1921 with potato beetles, but it is far from dry science! Millie writes her report with such creativity and humor, it is really a delight. She also adds in a few poems (not her own) that poetically illustrate her thoughts regarding her experiment.

By 1931 she was living at 716 Singer Place in Pittsburgh, which is now an empty wooded lot across from a dilapidated row of brick houses, and employed as "teacher" and on the Board of Public Education. It was during this period of her life that she wrote and published her two poetry books, Four-and-Forty Nature Verses (1931) and Four-and-Forty More Nature Verses (1936). Both are illustrated by Jeannette C. Shirk who drew pretty, fanciful pen and ink drawings for the books. The books were printed by Ziegler Printing Company, Inc. which was evidently a company that printed local school yearbooks, so Millie probably self-published her books.

Cornell University Library

Carnegie Natural History Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

There is a reference to another article that Millie wrote, published in June 1935, in the Carnegie Magazine, Volume IX, No. 3, pp 88 & 89 entitled "Lilacs or Groundhogs". She was apparently active in the Carnegie Museum of natural history in Pittsburgh and was an instructor there, focusing her energies on nature education for children.

It occurs to me that someone whose educational and professional focus is science is usually not much given to the language arts, such as poetry. Most people are primarily either "right brained" or "left brained", but Millie seems to have enjoyed and appreciated both scientific and literary pursuits with equal fervor; an unusual woman indeed! While her poetry is simple, it is not plain, and, as it was meant for young readers, she no doubt wrote it to appeal to children which it surely would.

I do not know when Millie died, and can find no record of her burial site.

And that is the extent of what I know about Millie Ruth Turner. If any visitor here can fill in some of the blanks about Millie, I encourage you to contact me at poetess@gmx.com!

Four and Forty Nature Verses (1931)

by Millie Ruth Turner

Four and Forty More Nature Verses


by Millie Ruth Turner


Pussy Willows

In every part of a living tree

There is music, story or poetry,

For giant branches against the sky

Peal and organ dirge as the storm roars by;

The leafy twigs that dip and sway

Are aeolian harps that the breezes play;

The circling sap has a rhythmic flow

As seasons come and seasons go.

The enfolding bark of every tree

Is steeped in stories for those who see;

Tales of joy or of sorrow and pain,

Of days of plenty or of thirst for rain.

In every root beneath the ground

An ode to duty and faith is found,

And so we plant, when we plant a tree,

Music and story and poetry.

I wandered through a lonely marsh

Where all was dull and gray

Until I saw white pussy cats

Upon a willow spray.

They did not mew; they did not purr;

They did not do a thing

But when I stroked their silvery fur

I felt t'would soon be Spring.

Silver Birch

The fairies flew forth one soft spring night

To dance, as the fairies will;

They carried a maypole of silvery white

And set it atop of the hill.

The decked it with streamers slender and long,

And touches of soft green lace;

They danced and danced till the sun came up

With a smile on his round red face.

He laughed and laughed at the fairy folk

Till they all flew off in shame,

Forgetting their maypole atop of the hill--

And that's how the white birch came.

*illustration by illustrator Jeannette C Shirk

Spider Web

Oh! I saw the fairies' washing

As I was passing by;

I saw their dainty garments

All hanging out to dry.

Such lovely cuffs and collars

All set with diamonds small

And yards and yards of laces

In the weeds and grasses tall.

Wise folks say, "They're cobwebs

Woven in the tall grass

To catch the little insects

When they try to pass".

And they tell me too,

That all the lovely diamonds

Are only drops of dew.

But I like to think the fairies

Hang their washings out to dry

And I always try to see them

When I am passing by.

A Seed

Corn Silk

A white-winged seed goes sailing by,

And mounts on breezes toward the sky.

I wonder what that seed will be,

A reed, a flower, or a tree?

A tree that spreads its limbs around

And casts cool shadows on the ground,

A flower with nectar in its cup

Where honey-bees may come to sup,

A reed beside a quiet lake,

Where green-winged teals their nests may make.

But whether flower, tree, or reed,

A thought of God is in that seed.

I found the finest silk

One early summer morn

In the farmer's cornfield

Hanging on his corn.

Silk suited for a queen

To weave into a gown

But Oh! she never took it

And the lovely silk turned brown.

* illustration by illustrator Jeannette C Shirk

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