With the year 2021 being the 150th anniversary of the formal organization of Osborne County, Kansas, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is celebrating this milestone achievement by inducting not one but two sets of inductees in this very special year, one in the spring and one in the fall.
And so on this date, May 13, 2021, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the ninth – and last – inductee of the OCHF Spring Class of 2021.
Clarice Grace Towner was the daughter of Homer Z. and Eveline (White) Towner. Grace’s birth on September 11, 1883 in Delphos, Kansas, was duly noted in the local newspaper:
“Mr. and Mrs. Homer Towner will please accept the congratulations their numerous friends over the safe arrival of their infant daughter.” – Delphos Carrier, Delphos, Kansas, September 21, 1883.
By 1891 Grace’s parents had moved to Osborne, Osborne County, Kansas. There Grace attended the primary schools and graduated from Osborne High School in 1902. She taught at least one year in the rural Mount Hope School, District #6, near Osborne in 1904-1905 before enrolling in Washburn College, at Topeka, Kansas, where she graduated with a B.A. degree in 1909. She taught a summer term in the Eureka, Kansas school system before heading to Alton, Kansas, in August 1909 to take over the assistant principal position at Alton High School. Just a month later Grace was appointed the Alton High School principal upon the sudden resignation of the previous principal.
In September 1911 Grace left for Chicago, Illinois to enter the Congregational Training School for Women, from which she graduated in may 1912. The following August she received her appointment to the mission board at Adana, Turkey to teach there in the mission school that served the Armenian Christian population in the city. This was the start of Grace’s career as a missionary teacher in the Near East Congregational Mission (1912-1951) under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Her forty years as a missionary occurred at (1) Adana Girls’ High School, 1912-1932; (2) Tarsus Amerikan College, 1933-1945; and (3) Uskudar American Academy for Girls, Istanbul, 1946-1951.
Grace started as the playground director at the Girls’ School in Adana and slowly worked her way up the educational ladder. For the first five years she saw the school grow in numbers and scholastic standing. And then came World War I and the reality of America and Turkey being on opposing sides.
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“Miss Grace Towner of Osborne, who has been engaged in the mission field at Adana, Turkey, the last four years, has been heard from through the mission board of the Congregational church. She has left Turkey and is likely on her way to Switzerland, according to reports, which are indefinite and unsatisfactory owing to war conditions in Europe, censoring of letters making it almost impossible to obtain news from people over there in whom Americans are interested.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, July 19, 1917.
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“Word was also received from Miss Grace Towner, a missionary in Turkey. The schools have been closed and the building used as a hospital and Miss Grace is a nurse now.” – Minneapolis Better Way, Minneapolis, Kansas, May 23, 1918.
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Word From Miss Grace Towner.
“The Wm. Wales family have heard from Miss Grace Towner. Miss Towner was a missionary in Turkey when the war broke out and all communication with her was cut off. This is the first direct word from her in a little over two years. She was heard from indirectly a year ago last July. She had written to a friend in Switzerland and the latter in turn wrote the Osborne relatives. Miss Towner says she is well and all right, but that the suffering there is terrible. The Armenian refugees are coming in there in a starving condition and things beggar description. She is at Adana, Turkey. She will start for home in April. Miss Towner is a niece of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Wales, a graduate of the Osborne high school and has been in Turkey about seven years.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, February 20, 1919.
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Miss Towner Has Sailed.
“The William Wales family last week received a letter from Miss Grace Towner stating that she had sailed for the United States. The letter was written from Port Said, Egypt, under date of May 5th. She left Turkey the first of May and is going by way of the Mediterranean and will land in England and come from there to New York. It is not likely she will reach this country before the first of July. She stated in her letter that traveling was very slow over her route. She will come from New York direct to Osborne.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, June 12, 1919.
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“A reception was given Tuesday in the Congregational chapel in honor of Miss Grace Towner, who has been engaged in mission work in Turkey for the past seven years and who returned to Osborne some days ago, having been granted a furlough of a year by the mission board. About a hundred of Miss Towner’s friends were present. She gave a most interesting talk on her work and experiences in Turkey. A social hour followed, during which a number of musical selections were given and refreshments were served.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, August 28, 1919.
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Upon her return to the United States Grace secured a teaching position in the Woodston, Kansas school system. She taught there for two years while she awaited word on being able to return to Turkey.
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Returns to Mission Field.
“Miss Grace Towner, who completed her school term at Woodston two weeks ago, and has since been with homefolks, Mrs. Wm. Wales and Mrs. S. B. Young of Penn township, left Saturday evening for Niles to spend a few days with her sister before starting on her long journey overseas to the mission field in Turkey, where she served before and during part of the World War. She sails from New York about the 22d of this month and will be stationed at Adana, Turkey, for the nest seven years under the auspices of the Congregational church. Adana is a city of about 100,000 population.” – Osborne County Farmer, Osborne, Kansas, June 9, 1921.
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Grace did return to Adana, but continued unrest in Turkey led to more troubles for her and her school:
TRY TO LOCATE MISSIONARY
Governor Allen Will Aid in Search for Miss Grace Towner.
“Governor Allen will aid in trying to locate Miss Grace Towner, a Congregational missionary, who has apparently disappeared in Armenia. Letters which have been sent to Miss Towner, a former high school teacher in Woodston, Osborne County, have been returned. Miss Towner is well known in Osborne County. Several years ago she went to Armenia as a missionary teacher. Recently the French evacuated the district in which Miss Towner was located and forty thousand Armenians fled. Miss Towner wrote to friends and relatives in Kansas regarding abandonment of the school. Since that time letters which have been addressed to her have been returned with notation that postal service was interrupted and mail could not be delivered. Governor Allen will try to locate the young woman thru federal departments in Washington.” – Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, March 10, 1922.
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MISS TOWNER IS SAFE
Kansas Missionary Teacher Flees Before Turks, But Not to Desert.
“Miss Grace Towner. Kansas missionary girl and teacher, has met with no mishap in Asia Minor, Turkey, but most of her girl students were forced to flee from Adana recently in advance of the terrible Turks, according to Mrs. May L. Flickinger, 1326 Lane Street, state secretary of the Woman’s Board of Missions of the Congregational Church, under whose support and direction Miss Towner is serving the cause of the Armenians.
Mrs. Klickinger is in receipt of letters from Mrs. Lucius O. Lee of Chicago, foreign secretary of the women’s Board of Missions of the Interior, who says the reports sent out in February to the effect that Miss Towner and 200 of her girls had been driven upon the desert, were not true, as regards Miss Towner. Mrs. Lee, who is in daily communication with the foreign work by cable, has given the information to Mrs. Flickinger for the benefit of the Kansas board, and also to Mrs. G. E. Denio, of Niles, a sister of Miss Towner.
According to this information, Mrs. Flickinger says the entire Armenian population of Adana, amounting to about 40,000, did forsake the city in advance of the Turks several weeks ago, including more than 200 girls in Miss Towner’s school. The Turks did not. however, molest Miss Towner in any way and she still has about twenty girls of other nationalities in her school. Instead of being forced upon a desert, Mrs. Flickinger says the Armenian refugees were allowed to scatter to six different centers, but on account of having no work their situation is desperate. The Armenians were forced to leave when the French evacuated the town, allowing it to fall in the hands of the Turks.
Miss Towner has been doing missionary work and supported by the Kansas Congregational Woman’s board for several years. She was recently in Kansas on a year’s furlough, which she spent at her home at Woodston, but returned to Turkey last August.” – Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, March 18, 1922.
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Miss Grace Towner
“An outstanding American missionary was somewhat impatiently cooling his heels in the outer office of prominent Turkish official in Adana, Turkey. Time passed and an audience seemed no nearer than it had at the start. Casually the name of Miss Grace Towner was uttered. A miraculous change took place. ‘Are you a friend of Miss Towner?’ demanded the guard of the inner portals. Almost instantly the waiting missionary was whisked into the presence of the man he wished to see.
For 17 years Grace Towner, daughter of the Kansas plains, has been at the helm of the Adana Girl’s School, through the war and the greatest exchange of populations known to history. She has seen the school, which at first ministered principally to Armenian girls, closed by war and reassemble, and then almost overnight become decimated – but she never gave up. In 1917-18 the Turkish Government took over the buildings while Miss Towner and her associate teachers gave private lessons until 1919. Then returning to America Miss Towner for two years studied and taught, waiting for a chance to go back. This came in 1922 when she returned to Adana and threw herself once more into the work of building up the school. She found the Turkish people after four or five years without educational opportunities, eager to have the institution reopened – so eager, indeed, that the girls furnished their own beds, bedding and eating utensils.
Miss Towner will be here at the Congregational church Friday night at 8 o’clock, and will tell us something of the work she has been doing conditions there and the progress being made in this larger field of the church. Miss Towner is being accompanied by Rev. Ludwig Thomsen of Osborne and is representing the larger work of the churches in the homeland. Mr. Thomsen is one of the strong men mentally and spiritually, of the state, and will be well worth hearing.” – Lenora News, Lenora, Kansas, April 24, 1929.
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Turkish Courts to Rule on Alleged Insult by Teacher
“Adana, Turkey (AP)—Within the next few days the Turkish courts are expected to hand down a decision in the case of Grace Towner of Boston, director of the American Girls school here, who is charged with insulting the Turkish Nationalist government.
Miss Towner was accused of the offense after several students at the school protested that they had been forced to wear red, white and blue uniforms and that the American teachers were carrying on a campaign of ‘Christian propaganda.’
The directress replied that red, white and blue uniforms were chosen after a student competition for suggestions which was held at the school and that the complaint against her was made by students who suggested other designs and failed to win the contest which, she said, was decided by the students themselves.
During the last of two hearings on Miss Towner’s case the Turkish judge congratulated students who spoke in Miss Towner’s defense for the clearness and logic of their testimony. A prominent Turkish lawyer, whose daughter was a student at the American school, volunteered to defend the American teacher, and the Turkish government’s educational inspector at Adana went to the school personally and upbraided the students who opposed Miss Towner. The Turkish government did not close the school.
American educational circles here believe that Miss Towner will be acquitted. If convicted she would be subject to both fine and imprisonment under the Turkish law.” – Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, April 4, 1931.
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In 1932 the decision was made to close the Adana school. After 21 years Grace was transferred to Tarsus in 1933 and taught in the Amerikan College there until 1945. At Tarsus, it was said, “a lift of her eyebrow and a glance over her glasses silenced the most disruptive class of boys.” In the summer of 1945 Grace took a brief furlough to make a visit back to the United States.
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Mission Trio Saved from Lifeboats
“BOSTON (AP)—Three Congregational missionary teachers enroute to the United States from Turkey were forced to take refuge in Athens, Greece, when the boat on which they were traveling hit a mine, caught fire and was put out of commission. The incident was reported in a cablegram received here by the American Board of Foreign Missions (Congregational). The three missionaries were Miss Edith L. Douglass, sister of Mrs. J. W. McKay of Shreveport, La.; Miss C. Grace Towner, sister of Mrs. George Denio of Eureka, Kan., and Mrs. Cyril H. Haas, sister of Mrs. Robert D. Cox of Hemingway, S. C. They and other passengers took to lifeboats and were picked up, unharmed, many hours later.” – Burlington Daily News, Burlington, Vermont, July 23, 1945.
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In 1946 Grace was sent to the American Academy for Girls in Uskudar, where, as in Tarsus, she was associate principal and taught English and English literature. In 1951 Grace expressed her wish to retire, which was granted. After visiting relatives in Kansas, Grace settled down in 1952 at Pilgrim Place, a retirement home for missionaries of the Congregational Church located in Claremont, California. She spent her remaining years giving lectures on her time as a missionary and educating audiences on the country of Turkey and its people.
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FORMER TEACHER IN TURKEY WILL TELL ABOUT COUNTRY
“Firsthand Information about Turkey will be offered by Miss Grace Towner, recently returned from 40 years of teaching in that country, for the International Relations Section, Pomona Valley Chapter, American Association of University Women, at 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, in Abernathy Hall, Pilgrim Place, Claremont. The talk is open to the public. Miss Towner taught in a girls’ school for 20 years and then in Tarsus College, located in Tarsus, birthplace of St. Paul. A lot of her students were Mohammedans. The speaker notes that she has witnessed the Turkish womens’ transition from veiled figures in the background to today’s cultured women who take their places in community affairs with dignity and skill. The rapid changes which have been made in Turkey under the present regime will form the basis for her talk. A question-and-answer period will follow the speech, according to Miss Etta Agee, chairman.” – Pomona Progress Bulletin, Pomona, California, November 5, 1953.
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After a lifetime of service and sacrifice Clarice Grace Towner quietly passed away on August 28, 1968 at Claremont, California, where she was laid to rest in Oak Park Cemetery. The Osborne County Hall of Fame is privileged to welcome Grace into the Hall and so honor her memory.
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- Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts – April 11, 1931, page 9.
- Burlington Daily News, Burlington, Vermont – July 23, 1945, page 6.
- Delphos Carrier, Delphos, Kansas, September 21, 1883, page 3.
- Downs Times, Downs, Kansas – September 21, 1911, page 3.
- The Journal Times, Racine, Wisconsin – April 20, 1938, page 4.
- Lenora News, Lenora, Kansas – April 24, 1929, page 2.
- Lincoln Star, Lincoln, Nebraska – April 24, 1938, page 25.
- Manhattan Mercury, Manhattan, Kansas – November 10, 1928, page 1; April 4, 1931, page 1.
- Minneapolis Messenger, Minneapolis, Kansas – May 23, 1918, page 3; March 16, 1922, page 1.
- Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California – April 8, 1931, page 21.
- Olpe Optimist, Olpe, Kansas – March 8, 1922, page 10.
- Osborne County News, Osborne, Kansas – August 12, 1909, page 5; May 20, 1912, page 3.
- Towner, Grace. Passport Applications Roll 0233 Certificate 399, 1912.
- Towner, Grace. Passport Applications Roll 0233 Certificate 48857, 23 January 1915-28 January 1915.
- Towner, Grace. Passport Applications Certificate 85517, August 1920.
- Personnel card for C. Grace Towner an employee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.