Mary Jobe Akeley

Mary Jobe Akeley
"Today the wild animals of Africa are making a losing fight. The great problem of the student of wildlife traveling in Africa today is not to defend himself against wild animals, but to actually see them."
- Mary Jobe Akeley, 1929

Induction Category:
Arts & Humanities

Born: 1886

Died: 1966

Inducted: 1994

Town: Mystic

In 1926, Mary Jobe Akeley, already an accomplished explorer and mountain climber, traveled to Africa with her husband of two years, Carl Akeley, a well-known natural scientist and sculptor affiliated with the Museum of Natural History in New York. While on the expedition, Carl Akeley fell ill and died in the mountains of the Congo, at the time a Belgian colony. Rather than return to New York, Mary Jobe Akeley took charge of the expedition. After burying her husband in the Congo, she completed the work of photographing mountain gorillas and other wildlife in their natural habitats. Upon her return to the United States, Akeley worked as an advisor to the development of the Great African Hall at the Museum of Natural History in New York (now called the Carl Akeley Hall of African Mammals), and became a crusader for the establishment of game preserves. She dedicated much of the rest of her life to this effort, achieving international recognition for her efforts to save the endangered wildlife of Africa.

Mary Jobe was born on the family farm in Tappan, Ohio in 1886 to Richard Watson Jobe and Sarah Jane Pittis. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College and earned a Master’s degree from Columbia University. She became an instructor at Hunter College and in 1913 was commissioned by the Canadian government to obtain information about the customs and history of Eskimos and Indian tribes in the remote reaches of northwest Canada. She mapped the headwaters of the Fraser River and then returned to explore uncharted mountains, one of which the Canadian government later named Mount Jobe in her honor.

Prompted by her love for the strenuous outdoor life, Akeley purchased a 45-acre tract of land in Mystic, Conn., in 1914 and made it her home. There, she established Camp Mystic for girls, a place where young women would “develop their bodies and minds.” The camp operated for 14 years, until it was closed in 1930, a casualty of the Great Depression.

Akeley returned to Africa several times, making trips to the Transvaal, southern Rhodesia and Portuguese East Africa. At age 64, she made her final journey to Africa to visit her husband’s grave. She spent part of each year at her “Great Hill” home in Mystic, and later retired there. She died at Great Hill at age 80 in 1966.

Among the many honors Akeley received in her lifetime was the Knight's Cross of the Order of the Crown, awarded by King Albert of Belgium, in recognition of her courage and commitment to African wildlife. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1979. In addition to lecturing about the plunder of Africa’s treasures, Akeley authored several books that recognized Africa’s unique beauty and the crisis the continent confronted in the disappearance of its resources including Carl Akeley’s Africa (1929), Lions, Gorillas, and their Neighbors (1932) and Congo Eden (1950). The Mary L. Jobe Akeley Trust & Peace Sanctuary was established in Mystic, Conn., after her death and remains a major local conservation organization.

During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War