Dawson, Willie Evelyn Turner (1888–1963)

By: Travis L. Summerlin

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: August 12, 2015

Willie Dawson, Baptist teacher and lecturer, was born on September 9, 1888, in San Antonio, the daughter of Don F. and Alice (Evelyn) Turner. After her father, an accountant, was killed while attempting to stop a street brawl in Marble Falls, she and her mother made their home with relatives in Dallas. After graduation from Central High School (now Bryan Avenue High School) in Dallas, Willie Turner taught kindergarten and became prominent in the city's social circles. She was baptized by George W. Truett and taught Sunday school in the First Baptist Church, Dallas, and later in the McKinney Avenue Baptist Church, while John Franklyn Norris was pastor. At the Texas Baptist state convention at San Antonio in November 1907 she met Joseph Martin Dawson, who was then serving as editor of the Baptist Standard. They were married in Dallas on June 3, 1908, and had two daughters and three sons.

Mrs. Dawson was a gifted public speaker who addressed countless Baptist gatherings and taught the college women's Sunday school class throughout the years of Dawson's pastorate at First Baptist Church in Waco. She served as the Young Women's Auxiliary superintendent for the Baptist Women Mission Workers from 1913 to 1918. She also raised funds to help build the Women's Memorial Dormitory at Baylor University and the Women's Building at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. A public challenge that she issued to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1930 brought about a rapid rise in the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions. Her services led her to be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1935 Baylor University awarded her an honorary LL.D. degree and named a women's dormitory for her.

While her husband served as the first executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., from 1946 to 1953, Willie Dawson was active in teaching the Dawson Bible Class at the First Baptist Church in Washington. She delivered addresses to the Baptist World Alliance in 1947 and the Baptist World Congress in 1950. After their retirement in 1954 the Dawsons lived in Austin, and Mrs. Dawson was forced to curtail her activities by a long illness that left her an invalid during the last five years of her life. She died on April 18, 1963, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Waco. The Southern Baptist Pastors' Wives Organization named her its "Ideal Preacher's Wife of 1963."

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Joseph Martin Dawson, A Thousand Months to Remember (Waco: Baylor University Press, 1964). Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists (4 vols., Nashville: Broadman, 1958–82). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Religion
  • Baptist
  • Women
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Travis L. Summerlin, “Dawson, Willie Evelyn Turner,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dawson-willie-evelyn-turner.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
August 12, 2015

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