Women’s History Month: Delia Akeley

Womens History Month: Delia Akeley

Hayden Cobbs, Staff Writer

Delia “Mickie” Akeley was born on December 5th, 1869, to Patrick and Margaret Denning. She married taxidermist, biologist, and conservationist Carl Akeley in 1902 at age 33. Before their marriage they worked together collecting specimens for museums including the American Museum of Natural History.

Akeley and her husband left for an expedition in Africa in 1905 and when they returned to the Americas, Akeley had a pet monkey named J.T. Jr. that she went on to study and even write a book about titled J.T. JR: The Biography of an African Monkey.  

In 1924, Akeley and her husband divorced and she left for Africa on her own to focus on the ethnography of Pygmy tribes, wanting to study the lesser known tribes that had little to no contact with the modernized world. Akeley lived among the Bambute Pygmy tribe of the Ituri forest for a few months, gathering crucial information on their family structure, culture, and how they lived. 

Akeley explored other parts of Africa that other westerners had never explored before. She was the first to cross the previously unexplored desert between Kenya’s Tana River and Ethiopia, canoeing up the river to its entrance in the Indian Ocean. Her expeditions in Central Africa helped people better understand Zaire, Kenya, and the Congo. 

Akeley did much more than just live off the grid in Central Africa, she served with American forces overseas in World War One, was a member of the Society of Women Geographers, the Women’s Overseas Club, PEN, and was an honorary member of the CampFire Club of Chicago. She also published three, extremely successful, books: Jungle Portraits, All True!, and J.T. JR: The Biography of an African Monkey.   

Delia Akeley died on May 22, 1970, at the age 100. Her expedition journals and findings from Central Africa were given to the Field Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.