Kate Larimore Turabian (1893–1987) was the graduate school dissertation secretary at the University of Chicago for nearly three decades, from 1930 to 1958. She was also the editor of official publications for the university.
She was born Laura Kate Larimore on Chicago’s South Side, where she was also raised, graduating from Hyde Park High School. A serious illness prevented Kate from attending college. Instead she took a job as a typist at an advertising agency, where she worked alongside a young Sherwood Anderson.
She met her husband, Stephen Turabian, in 1919, and began working at the university as a departmental secretary a few years later. In 1930 she became the university’s dissertation secretary, a newly created position in which every accepted doctoral thesis had to cross her desk. It was there that she wrote a small pamphlet describing the correct style for writing college dissertations. That pamphlet eventually became A Manual for Writers and has gone on to sell more than nine million copies in eight editions. She also authored The Student’s Guide for Writing College Papers.
Chicago has always insisted on the highest standards for the substantive content of dissertations at the university; Kate Turabian enforced the highest standards for the form of those dissertations as well. A Manual for Writers carried her reputation for exactitude well beyond the halls of Chicago.
One of her colleagues in the Office of Official Publications, Lois F. Madsen, described Kate as
a legend on the University of Chicago quadrangles.… A devout Episcopalian, an accomplished cook, an enthusiastic and adventurous traveler, and a voracious reader whose erudition earned the respect of scholars of all ranks despite her lack of the customary academic credentials. After her years of devoted service to the University, trudging in her sturdy oxfords from her apartment on the south side of the Midway to her office on the third floor of the Administration building, she acceded to her husband Stephen’s longing for a warmer clime, and retired to California.
Her husband died in 1967, while they were on a vacation in Paris. Kate passed away twenty years later, at the age of ninety-four. John Marshall wrote a warm tribute in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on October 27, 1987:
Kate L. Turabian was our trusted guide and mentor, the absolute authority, the one who knew all there was to know about the strange world of proper term papers.… A Manual for Writers was one of the first books we bought in college and it was one of the only books we kept with us through all four years and probably beyond. To write a term paper without a well-worn copy of Turabian handy was unthinkable. Our writing on term papers might be weak, our research haphazard, our insights sophomoric, but, thanks to Kate L. Turabian, our footnotes could always be absolutely flawless.