Women’s History Month: Debbye Turner Bell

Debbye Turner Bell
Photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization.

Born: September 19, 1965 in Honolulu, Hawaii

Bio:  Debrah Lynn (Debbye) Turner Bell, who grew up in Jonesboro, was crowned Miss America 1990. After her reign as Miss America, she became a veterinarian, has appeared on national television, and is a motivational speaker on youth-related and Christian topics. 

As a child, she set her goal to become a veterinarian but recognized the financial challenges ahead, especially after her parents’ divorce. In 1986, she graduated cum laude from ASU with a B.S. in agriculture. Desiring to attend graduate school in order to become a veterinarian, she followed a path toward a scholarship which had begun several years earlier: beauty pageants.

Her first pageant had been Miss Black Teenage World in 1981, in which she was first runner-up. She won the title of Northeast Arkansas Junior Miss that same year and was a semi-finalist in the 1982 Arkansas Junior Miss pageant. In 1983, she won the Jonesboro High School Valentines Sweetheart pageant, after which was approached by the director of the Miss Jonesboro pageant, who encouraged her to enter that competition as her first pageant in the Miss America system. Turner was interested because the Miss America scholarship program was the largest source of scholarships for women in the world. She placed as second- and first runner-up respectively in the Miss Jonesboro pageants of 1983 and 1984.

She entered graduate school in 1988 as a veterinary student at the University of Missouri at Columbia, thus becoming eligible for the Miss Missouri system. Turner won the Miss Columbia pageant in February 1989, won the Miss Missouri pageant that summer, and went in September to Atlantic City, where she was crowned Miss America 1990, becoming the first delegate from Missouri to win the title.

She has served on local, state and national boards, including the Children’s Miracle Network, the National Council on Youth Leadership, and the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994.

You can learn more about the life of Debbye Turner Bell at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.