1878 - 1966
Mary L. Jobe Akeley (née Mary Lenore Jobe) was born January 29, 1878 in on a farm in Tappan, Ohio, to Richard Jobe and Sarah Pittis. She was an explorer, photographer, writer, and lecturer (1). She became involved with the American Museum of Natural History in 1924 after her marriage to Carl Ethan Akeley. A participant in his 5th Expedition to Africa, she would then continue his work for the completion of the African Hall, after his death in November 1926, being named her husband’s successor as advisor for the exhibit. In 1929 she published Carl Akeley’s Africa, a detailed account of the Akeley-Eastman-Pomeroy African Hall Expedition.
Akeley went to school in Deersville, Ohio before attending Scio College at age 15 in Alliance, Ohio. She received a Ph.B. in 1897 from the school, and in 1930 received an honorary doctorate. Akeley attended Bryn Mawr College for graduate school from 1901-1903, while also teaching at Temple College in Philadelphia. From 1903-1906, she was Head of the Department of History and Civics at the New York State Normal and Training School of Cortland. In 1909 she received her A.M. from Columbia University. During this time she was also a faculty member of the Department of History at the Normal College of the City of New York, until 1916 (1).
Amidst her studies, Akeley would also embark on her first expeditions to British Columbia. In 1905 and 1907 she botanized for Dr. Charles Shaw of the University of Pennsylvania (1). She would return to British Columbia in 1909 with Professor Herschel C. Parker on an expedition for the Canadian Topographical Survey, where she first began taking photographs. In 1910 and 1912, Akeley once again returned to British Columbia, where she explored Mt. Assiniboine. In 1912, she gave 40 lectures on the exploration of the Canadian Rockies (1). Her next expedition in 1913 would be her first alone to the Canadian Rockies, studying the Athabascan Indians. In 1914, Akeley was asked by the Canadian government to map the headwaters of the Fraser River. Akeley worked with Donald Phillips on the map, appointing him as her guide man. The map was published in 1915 by the American Geographic Society. In this same year, she purchased 45 acres in Mystic, Connecticut in order to establish a girl’s camp. “Camp Mystic” opened in 1916 and would close in 1930 as a cause of the Great Depression. She traveled with Phillips in 1915 and 1917-1918, back to the Canadian Rockies in attempts to climb Mt. Sir Alexander, although she was unsuccessful. In 1925, the Canadian government named a peak in the Canadian Rockies after her, dubbing it “Mt. Jobe” as a tribute to her work (1).
In 1920, Akeley would meet Carl Ethan Akeley at the home of a family friend. They married on October 18, 1924 in New York City. On January 30, 1926, she and her husband left on the Akeley-Eastman-Pomeroy expedition, her first to Africa. Carl Akeley died in the Belgian Congo on November 17, 1926, during the expedition. Mary continued in his absence through spring of 1927, completing her husband’s work. For her efforts she was named Special Advisor and Assistant for the African Hall at the American Museum of Natural History and earned the Cross of the Knight, order of the Crown for both her and her husband’s work on the expedition (1).
Akeley remained in her role at AMNH, lecturing, writing, and raising funds for the African Hall, until 1938 (1). She returned to Africa two more times, leading her own expeditions. In June 1935, she departed New York for Transvaal, South Rhodesia and Portugese East Africa, where she took still and moving pictures of wild life, game perserves, and the Zulu and Swali tribes for AMNH, with the camera Carl invented. In 1937, she returned for a final time to the Canadian Rockies. In 1947, she returned a final time to Africa, at the commission of the Belgian government to survey the Belgian Congo African Parks, including the improved Albert National Park. Akeley photographed and filmed wild life on her expedition and also visited her husband’s grave site (1).
Akeley’s health deteriorated from 1959 until her death, due to hip problems and severe arthritis. She was hospitalized numerous times and in and out of nursing homes. She died in a nursing home on July 19, 1966 in Mystic, Connecticut. She never remarried and had no children. Upon her death, Akeley’s 45 acres of land were given to the Thames Science Center in Connecticut, an organization that focused on conservation issues. Now entitled the “Peace Sanctuary” the property remains open for the public. Akeley’s papers and photographs were donated to the American Museum of Natural History, while others are currently housed in the Mystic River Historical Society, after being transferred from the Thames Science Center in 1988 (1). On August 9, 2003, a historical marker was erected in Deersville, Ohio in her memory (2).
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