Mary Jobe Akeley

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Mary Jobe Akeley
Mary Lenore Jobe (framed).jpg
Mary L. Jobe, c 1913
Born (1878-01-29)29 January 1878[1]
Tappan, Ohio, United States of America
Died 19 July 1966(1966-07-19) (aged 88)[1]
Mystic, Connecticut, United States of America
Resting place Patterson Union Cemetery, Deersville, Ohio.[1]
Nationality American
Occupation naturalist, writer, explorer, cartographer

Mary Jobe Akeley (1878 – 1966) was an American explorer and naturalist, famous as one of the earliest women explorers in Africa where she and her husband hunted and photographed animals during their natural history studies. She is the author of Carl Akeley's Africa, published in 1929, Lions, Gorillas and Their Neighbors, published in 1932 and Congo Eden published in 1950. Mount Jobe in Canada was renamed in her honor to acknowledge her exploration efforts in the Rocky Mountains.[2]

Childhood and education[edit]

Mary Lenore Jobe Akeley was born to Richard Watson and Sarah Jane Pittis Jobe on 29 January 1878.[1] She grew up on her parents' farm in Tappan, Ohio and graduated from Scio College, Ohio. After graduation she taught at a public school until 1901 when she joined Bryn Mawr College. She later transferred to Columbia University, New York where she received her Master of Arts degree in 1909 after which she joined Hunter College as faculty in History.[3]

Explorations in Canada[edit]

She began exploring areas of British Columbia in 1905.[1] In 1907 she traveled for three months in a small party led by Dr. Charles J. Shaw, exploring the Selkirk Mountains.[4] A later expedition, led by Professor Herschel Parker, was the first to set foot on Mount Sanford.[5] By September 1913, she had made six trips exploring British Columbia and studying the Carrier Indians in their villages. In 1913, in an expedition lasting ten weeks and covering over 800 miles, she travelled alone except for an occasional Indian guide hired to take her to the next village. For many of the Indians, she was the first white woman they had ever seen. They promptly dubbed her Dəne tsʼeku, their native language for "Man-Woman," because of her clothing and straight-forward demeanor.[6]

In 1913, while at Hunter College, the Canadian Government commissioned her to study the customs and history of Eskimos and Indian tribes in the Canadian Northwest.[7] While studying and photographing the native tribes in the region, she explored regions of the Canadian Rockies and mapped the Fraser River in 1914, and in 1915 discovered and mapped the then unnamed and unexplored Mount Sir Alexander locally known as Big Ice Mountain,[7] making two unsuccessful attempts to ascend the peak.[8] She was nominated as a fellow of The Royal Geographic Society of London[9] and was awarded a membership in the American Geographical Society[2] for her work in this period. She was also an early member of the American Alpine Club.[10] Mount Jobe was renamed in her honor by the Geographic Board of Canada in 1925.

Camp Mystic & the Peace River Sanctuary[edit]

In 1914, Akeley purchased a 45 acre parcel of land in Mystic, Connecticut to set up Camp Mystic – a summer camp for girls. The camp was conducted annually from 1916 and open to girls aged eight to eighteen. Akeley's philosophy behind the camp was that "girls of today have a right to freedom, health, and happiness."[11] The camp frequently hosted renowned explorers who spoke of their adventures and travels to the girls. In 1930, the camp was closed due to the Great Depression. The tract of land that housed Camp Mystic is now open to the public as a Peace Sanctuary.[12][13]

As a longtime proponent of nature conservation, in 1959 Akeley donated 8 acres of her Connecticut estate to The Nature Conservancy's Connecticut Chapter. Upon Akeley's death in 1966, her will established a Peace Sanctuary Trust that leased the 45 acres of property in Mystic, Connecticut to the Thames Science Center, a New London, Connecticut-based conservation organization.[11][14] In 1984, the 8 acre tract of land donated to The Nature Conservatory was returned to the care and ownership of Akeley's trustees, who in turn established the unified property as the "Peace Sanctuary."[11][14][15]

The property was the subject of much activity during the time that it was under the care of the Thames Science Center. The preserve was the site of several botanical and ornithological research studies[16] and was a popular field trip destination for local schools: the cost of admission was fifty cents per child and free for teachers.[17] In 1968, over 2,200 adults and students attended any of the 61 programs the Sanctuary offered,[18] including guided tours and day camps for children in the summers. Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops were also frequent visitors at Peace Sanctuary to work on merit badges or to help maintain the grounds as part of their community service.[15] The property still stands today as a wooded wildlife retreat open to the public.[11]

Marriage and travels in Africa[edit]

A diorama at the Akeley Hall in the American Museum of Natural History.

In 1924, she married Carl Ethan Akeley, the naturalist and taxidermist, a year after his divorce from Delia Akeley. She travelled to the Belgian Congo with him in 1926 to collect specimens for the American Museum of Natural History, New York. She and her husband studied Gorillas near Mount Mikeno and surveyed the region for the possibility of setting up a Gorilla sanctuary. When Carl Akeley died in 1926 during the expedition, she continued and led the expedition of twenty men. She assumed the tasks of mapping regions of the Belgian Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania or Tanganyika as it was known then, as well as acquiring and preparing many of the specimens set to be displayed at the American Museum of Natural History.[19] Upon her return to the United States, she was appointed as adviser and actively raised funds for the Great African Hall of African Mammals in the American Museum of Natural History. In 1936, when the hall opened, it was renamed Akeley Hall in honor of her husband.[12] In 1928 she was invited by Albert I of Belgium to enlarge the Albert National Park since renamed Virunga National Park, which she and her husband had worked to set up at Mount Mikeno. While there, she realized the danger that modern day hunting and cultural influences posed to the African wildlife and tribal customs and crusaded for the establishment of game preserves and worked to safeguard the tribal customs of the pygmies.[9] In 1935, she led an expedition through the Transvaal, Portuguese East Africa and Kruger National Park to study the wildlife and the Zulus and Swazi people. In 1947, the Belgian Government requested her to revisit Africa to survey the wildlife sanctuaries in the Congo. She filmed several critically endangered African mammals on this trip to raise awareness about wildlife conservation before returning to the United States. She died of a stroke on 19 July 1966 at Camp Mystic.

Awards and recognition[edit]

Mary Akeley received the Cross of the Knight, Order of the Crown, for her work in Africa from Albert I of Belgium in 1928.[9] She was among the earliest women explorers in the Canadian Northwest and Africa. She also supervised some of the last instances of museum taxidermy.[7] She was inducted into Ohio Women's Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.[20] In 2003, a historical marker was erected in her honor, in Deersville, Ohio, close to her birthplace of Tappan.[1]


  • Adventures in the African jungle
  • Lions, gorillas and their neighbors
  • The wilderness lives again: Carl Akeley and the great adventure
  • Restless jungle
  • Congo Eden
  • Carl Akeley's Africa
  • Rumble of a distant drum: a true story of the African hinterland

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Remarkable Ohio, Marking Ohio's History. "Marker #4-34 Mary L. Jobe Akeley / Harry F. Hazlett". Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Duncan, Joyce (2002). Ahead of their time: a biographical dictionary of risk-taking women. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-313-31660-9. Retrieved January 30, 2011. 
  3. ^ Haraway, Donna (2004). The Haraway reader. Routledge. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-415-96689-4. Retrieved February 7, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Explored Selkirk, Four Women Braved the Hardships with Dr. Shaw's Party". Evening star. (Washington, D.C.). 25 September 1907. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  5. ^ "Woman to Explore Alaska". The Sun (New York, NY). 26 June 1913. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  6. ^ "Woman's Lone Trip in Candadian Wilds". The Sun (New York, NY). 10 September 1913. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Waldman, Carl; Wexler, Alan (2004). Encyclopedia of Exploration Volume 1. Facts on File. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8160-4676-8. Retrieved January 30, 2011.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "exp" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  8. ^ Nash, Mike (2004). Exploring Prince George: A Guide to North Central B. C. Outdoors. Rocky Mountain Books Ltd. p. 230. ISBN 978-1-894765-49-7. Retrieved January 30, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c Sicherman, Barbara; Green, Carol (1980). Notable American women: the modern period : a biographical dictionary, Volume 4. Harvard University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-674-62733-8. Retrieved January 30, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Miss Mary L. Jobe of the Alpine Club". Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Indian Territory (Oklahoma)). 9 May 1915. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c d Crowther, Dawn-Starr (Winter 1989). Jay, Bill, ed. "Mary L. Jobe Akeley" (24). Tempe, Arizona. - via Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.
  12. ^ a b Stange, Mary (2003). Heart shots: women write about hunting. Stackpole Books. p. 368. ISBN 978-0-8117-0044-3. Retrieved January 30, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Four Women of Mystic and their Time" (PDF). Mystic River Historical Society. The Portersville Press. October 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Peace Sanctuary" (Letter to Beth Lapin). October 21, 1984. - via Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.
  15. ^ a b "Re: Transfer-out - Akeley" (Letter to Mike Dennis). July 19, 1985. - via Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.
  16. ^ "Peace Sanctuary" (Letter to Charles Tighe). March 2, 1971. - via Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.
  17. ^ Spring Field Trip Sources, New London, CT: Thames Science Center, 1968. - via Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.
  18. ^ "The Peace Sanctuary" (Letter to Trustees of The Peace Sanctuary Trust c/o Charles Tighe). March 3, 1970. - via Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.
  19. ^ Hill, Edwin. "Carl Akeley's Active Window". Newspaper – via Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives. 
  20. ^ Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. "Mary Jobe Akeley". Retrieved August 15, 2011. 

External links[edit]