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Vandervelde, Marjorie Mills



  • Existence: 1908 - 2010


Marjorie Mills Vandervelde, writer, traveller, and photojournalist, was born September 13, 1908, the ninth of ten children of Anna Burgess Mills and Dr. Ernest Mills. Ernest married Anna Burgess and moved to the mining community of Payson, Illinois, where he practiced as a doctor. When he developed symptoms of tuberculosis that he felt were aggravated by the dust from the mining operations, he moved his family and his medical practice to the rural town of Le Grand, Iowa. In LeGrand, the Mills joined in the civic life of the town and became members of the Friends church. The Mills family had shared the Friends' abolitionist persuasion, but were never pacifists. During World War One, the oldest sons Glenn and Max enlisted in the military and Dr. Ernest Mills attempted to enlist as a medic, but was told to he would be needed in the United States to deal with the flu pandemic of 1918. The youngest Mills son, Ernest, Jr., enlisted in the military and was killed during World War Two. Additional biographical materials about the Mills family are located in the Family series.

Marjorie Mills' sister Ursula provided most of the care for her younger sister during her childhood, but her mother's encouragement kindled a spirit of adventure in the children. Anna Burgess Mills may have inherited her spirit from her father Joe Burgess, who joined the California Gold Rush in 1849. Marjorie Mills Vandervelde was also influenced by her mother's sister, Nellie Burgess, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News until 1908. At that time, she quit her job to homestead in Idaho. Her adventures as a single-woman homesteader, her stories of bears and rugged landscape shaped the imagination of Marjorie Vandervelde during her childhood. Marjorie Vandervelde graduated from Le Grand High School and attended Penn (now William Penn) College and Iowa State University, where she met Andrew "Vandy" Vandervelde. The couple was married December 31, 1929 in the Friends Church in LeGrand. After marrying, they rented a farm near Emmetsburg where Andrew Vandervelde had grown up. The Depression ensued, slashing the price of corn. The Vanderveldes turned to breeding hybrid seed corn and began their own seed company, "Vandy's Hybrid Seed Corn, Best by Test," at the parental Vandervelde farm. The company operated for many years and a portion of the proceeds were used to support scholarships in Le Grand and Emmetsburg.

Andrew and Marjorie Mills Vandervelde raised three sons, Gerry, Kent, and Donald. When the children were young, the family was active in 4-H Clubs, the Methodist Church, school bands and athletics, and the Canter Club. They vacationed by car with their children and when the youngest was in high school, Marjorie and Andrew Vandervelde began travelling overseas. Andrew and Marjorie Vandervelde took extended trips with her sister Ursula Mills Johnson beginning in the 1960s. When her sons were pursuing college degrees and serving in the military, Marjorie Vandervelde became interested in writing about people in developing cultures in isolated regions of the world. Her free-lance writing and photojournalist career led her to live among pre-modern peoples in isolated regions of the Arctic, Latin America, and the South Pacific. (See the list of international travels below). During her travels, she adopted the lifestyle of the peoples she wrote about, learning their customs and beliefs through her own experience. Her older sister, Ursula Johnson accompanied her on many of her trips and kept detailed journals of their experiences. These experiences formed the basis for some of the numerous newspaper and magazine articles she sold between the early 1960s and 2001. Her many photographs were used to illustrate her writings.

Vandervelde became particularly interested in and returned many times to live among the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Panama and South America. She and her son Gerald supported the medical education of two men from this tribe. She also formed an enduring friendship with Marvel Iglesias, a Michigan-born woman who married a Kuna Indian and lived in San Blas among the Kuna the rest of her life. Marjorie Vandervelde continues to serve on the advisory board of a group which coordinates assistance to the Kuna Indians.

Vandervelde wrote extensively for the juvenile press feeling a strong desire "to help children of different cultures and religions understand each other." In her writings for adults she has attempted to convey her respect for the dignity of primitive peoples.

Vandervelde published seven books: Keep Out of Paradise, 1966, Sam and the Golden People, 1970 (juvenile), Could It Be Old Hiari?, 1970 (juvenile), Across the Tundra, 1972 (juvenile), Beauty Is-A Ring in My Nose, 1975, Born Primitive, 1982, and Me Run Fast Good, 1983 (juvenile). She won numerous awards from the Iowa Press Women and the National Press Women award in 1973 for Across the Tundra.

See the autobiographical sketch by Marjorie Vandervelde in the first folder of the Family series.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Marjorie Vandervelde papers

Identifier: IWA0375

Photojournalist and writer who lived with Cuna Indians on the San Blas Islands to learn their culture and traditions.

Dates: 1837-2008