Who Was Kate L. Turabian?

There are so many different citation styles to choose from when writing a research paper. MLA format, APA format, Harvard referencing, and many others. But did you know that one is named after a famous educator born over 100 years ago? Turabian style is named for Kate L. Turabian, an American educator and writer. So why is an entire citation style used by millions of students each year named after a specific person? Read on for more about Kate Turabian and her contributions to research and writing methods.

Kate Larimore was born in February 1893 on the southside of Chicago. Though she was an avid reader and writer, and reportedly excelled in her studies, she contracted a serious illness that prevented her from attending college. Instead of pursuing a formal education due to these challenges, she became a secretary and typist at an advertising agency.

After meeting her husband Stephen Turabian in 1919, she became a secretary at the University of Chicago, where she focused mainly on editing and maintaining records of doctoral theses. After reading hundreds of submissions, she developed a small how-to guide on how to correctly cite sources in research papers. This work would eventually become the Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, the source that documents the parameters of the style commonly known today as “Turabian.”

After 30 years in her position as dissertation secretary, Kate eventually retired from academia and moved to California with her husband. Stephen passed away in 1967 while the couple was vacationing in Paris. Kate went on to live a quiet life, and died in 1987 at the age of 94.1

The Manual for Writers is still in circulation and has gone on to sell more than 9 million copies worldwide since its official publication in 1937. It is based on the Chicago Manual of Style, a citation method that was already widely used at the time and is also still used today. Turabian’s work, however, was specifically designed and tailored to meet students’ needs and reflect the most important elements of Chicago Style. Her goal was simple: to provide students with the necessary information to conduct well thought out research and present it clearly and accurately.

The guidelines in the Manual offer practical solutions to a host of issues that are commonly encountered by student writers. It contains three essential points concerning academic writing:

  • An introduction to the steps in the research and writing process. These steps discuss critical reading, argument composition, and the draft writing method.
  • A complete guide to correct citation styling, with detailed information on two main scholarly citation styles (notes-bibliography and author-date), an array of source types.
  • Comprehensive guidance on all matters of editorial style, including recommendations on punctuation, spelling, abbreviations, and the use of quotations.2

A study conducted in 2016 found that Turabian was the most commonly assigned female author in college classes.3 Truly, Kate Turabian’s work remains a major contribution to modern writing and research style.


1 “Who Was Kate Turabian?” A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. The Chicago University Press, n.d. Accessed June 30, 2017. http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/turabian/turabian_who.html.

2 Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 8th ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2013.

3 Johnson, David. “College Textbooks: 100 Most-Read Female Writers on Campus.” Time. Last modified February 25, 2016. Accessed June 30, 2017. http://time.com/4234719/college-textbooks-female-writers/.