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Mary L. Elmendorf Papers

Identifier: MS Group 093

Scope and Content

The Papers of Mary Lindsay Elmendorf include manuscripts, notes, correspondence and memoranda, journals, household surveys, publications and "gray" literature, audio tapes, photographs, and other documentation created or used by her. The Papers document most of her long career, beginning with her position as head of the CARE office for Mexico, and including her doctoral research on the lives of the Mayan women of Chan Kom, Mexico, and other research on the roles of women, her career as a consulting anthropologist to the World Bank and numerous other organizations, and some aspects of her personal life. In addition to her dissertation research on "Mayan Women and Change," published as Nine Mayan Women (Cambridge, 1976), the Papers include extensive documentation of her study with Deborah Merrill of the socio-impact of development on Chan Kom women, and a larger project in collaboration with Alfonso Villa Rojas and others on Behavior among Mayan Women (series 1, 16 boxes). Her participation on a Ford Foundation Task Force on Women resulted in the production of several papers including a chapter, "Mexico: the Many Worlds of Women," in the book Women: Roles and Status in Eight Countries (New York, 1977). In addition to Elmendorf's own research and manuscripts, the Papers include copies of the manuscripts and working papers of other contributors. The Papers also include documentation of other of Elmendorf's studies on women in Latin America, including "Suggestions, Recommendations and Resources for Enhancing the Role of Women in Development: Peru, Chile, and Brazil" and the "Women Governors of the Dominican Republic" (series 2, 6 boxes).

The second major topic of the Papers is the application of appropriate technology (series 3, 18 boxes), especially the provision of clean water and sanitation, women's health, and ways to involve women in the planning and implementation of such projects. Among the major projects are Water Supply and Waste Disposal in Developing Countries (5 boxes), numerous studies and projects emanating from the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (IDWSSD, 6 boxes), and a study on the social impact of the Bura Irrigation project in Kenya (1.5 boxes). The Water Supply and Waste Disposal project was an extension of Elmendorf's Latin American interests, as all the case studies including the village of Chan Kom, are from Latin America. Documentation of the IDWSSD is extensive. As a consultant to an Interagency Task Force on Women's Involvement and a United Nations Development Program assignment on the Promotion of the Role of Women in Water and Environmental Sanitation Services (PROWESS), Elmendorf prepared a paper on the prospect for women's involvement at the beginning of the Decade and at the end an assessment, The IDWSSD and Women's Involvement (1990). Also documented are her involvement with numerous projects as a consultant to Water and Sanitation for Health (WASH), the U.S. Agency for International Development arm of the Decade, and other organizations such as the Institute for Rural Water and Global Water. Specific projects include assessments in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines. In addition to Elmendorf's own work, the IDWSSD papers include extensive documents from the agencies with which she was associated.

The General Series of the Papers (series 4) include personal and professional correspondence (1.5 boxes), a collection of biographical material and documents relating to opposition to the Vietnam War and advisement of draft resisters (.5 boxes), manuscripts of Elmendorf's writings and presentations not included in the project files (1 box), files from participation in many professional and academic conferences (4 boxes), and many pre-publication documents, often with notes and accompanying correspondence (7 boxes). There are three boxes of audio-visual material, primarily audio tapes of interviews with Mayan women and conference proceedings (Series 5). Additional descriptions are found with each series.

The 1st accession of the Elmendorf Papers is arranged in five series: Series 1 - Mayan Women in Chan Kom, 1969-1979; Series 2 - Early Career and Women's Studies; Series 3: Appropriate Technology; Series 4: General Papers; Series 5: Audio-Visual Formats; and Series 6: Supplement and Addendum (1997). The 2nd accession is arranged in the same five series as the 1st accession. The 3rd accession also adheres to this five-series arrangement, but all of the materials in Accession 3 are found under Series 4.

The 2nd Accession, acquired between 2002 and 2003, both complements material in the original accession, prior to 1995, and adds new papers created since 1994. The second accession is arranged in the same five series as was the original: (1) Mayan Women (2) Early Career and Women's Studies (3) Applied Technology, (4) General Papers, and (5) Audio-Visual Material. Series 1 has been expanded to include material somewhat beyond the original scope of Elmendorf's own work with Mayan women, but is still nearly all Mayan related. A large part of the Series includes manuscripts and other documents relating to a forthcoming book, based on a 1997 American Anthropological Association panel in honor of Elmendorf's career in Mayan studies, including two chapters by Elmendorf (Boxes 5-6). The series also contains field notes taken by Elmendorf and Alfonso Villa-Rojas (Box 1).

Series 2 expands considerably the quantity of papers relating to Elmendorf's early involvement with CARE in Mexico, the Peace Corps, the Women's Governors Project in the Dominican Republic, and the Overseas Group of the League of Women Voters. A new, small component of her work with the American Friends Service Component during World War II has been added.

Numerous documents have been added to the Appropriate Technology Series (Series 3), especially relating to the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (IDWSSD) and Promotion of the Role of Women in Water and Environmental Sanitation Services (PROWWESS) project (Boxes 2-5). New topics in the series include water, sanitation, and population projects in Central America and Mexico (Boxes 6-7), a box on several Indian projects (Box 8), relating to waste disposal and women's employment and financial issues. Some papers relating to the Florida environment (Box 7) demonstrate Elmendorf's interest and participation in local environment concerns and in simple technological solution to those problems. Box 9 includes documents relating to the editing of the Women, Water, Sanitation abstract journal.

Series 4 includes two major presentations by Elmendorf, one entitled "Priorities, Challenges and Strategies: A Feminine Perspective, 1975-1995" made to the 1996 WEDEC conference in India (Box 3) and the other, "Water is Life: A View through the Eyes of a Women," a seminar at the International Women's University in Germany (Box 4). A major part of the series (Boxes 7-9) relates to the Fourth Women's World Conference, Beijing, 1995, especially the NGO Forum, to which Elmendorf was a delegate, representing the United Nations Association (UNA/USA) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). At the Beijing Conference she organized a panel of participants from the 1975 Conference to review progress made during twenty years. The records in this Series document greater participation with local groups and women's issues than in the first accession. The Series also contains biographical records and correspondence (Boxes 1-2) and additional conference presentations and organizational participation (Boxes 3-5). A substantial quantity of papers relate to the Habitat II Town Hall, held in Sarasota, in 1996, preliminary to the Habitat II International conference in Istanbul.

The 3rd accession to the collection, acquired in 2005 and 2006, includes correspondence, biographical, writings, photographs, and other materials. There are several folders pertaining to the book inspired by ME's research, Rights, Resources, Culture and Conservation in the Land of the Maya. Additionally, there are several folders pertaining to organizations and corporate bodies, including UNICEF, the United Nations, the Society for Applied Anthropology, and the University of Florida. All of the folders in Accession 3 have been added as under Series 4, and the materials in this accession both compliment and add to the materials existing in Series 4 under the first two accessions to the collection.


  • Creation: 1905-2015
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1952-2004



The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

Anthropologist and author Mary Lindsay Elmendorf is best known for her studies of Mayan women in the village of Chan Kom, Mexico, and for her work as a consulting anthropologist in the application of appropriate technology for community participation and involvement. Dr. Elmendorf received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the Union Institute in 1972. Earlier education included an A.B. in psychology (1937), a M.A. equivalent from the School of Public Administration and Social Work (1941), and graduate training in sociology and anthropology, all at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In her early career, Dr. Elmendorf held various positions in the United States and abroad, working in the rural south and the slums of Boston and New Haven in the late 1930s, and at the Putney School in Vermont and Mexico in the early 1940s. She performed volunteer work with the American Friends Service Committee in Europe from 1944-1946, working in the prisons and with displaced people and later serving as Director of the Spanish Refugee Program. In 1947 the American and British Friends were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work during and after World War II, and Dr. Elmendorf considered this to be one of her greatest honors. Following her European volunteer work, she returned to graduate studies in anthropology at Chapel Hill. In addition to her dissertation research, she completed several other studies of the women of Chan Kom and of other women in Latin America.

From 1952 to 1960, Dr. Elmendorf was head of the CARE office in Mexico, and later served as a consultant to the Peace Corps and the Overseas Education Fund of the League of Women Voters. At the same time she designed and supervised internships and off-campus study with the Peace Corps, CARE, and other groups for students at Brown University and New College of Florida (where her husband was Vice President 1961-65 and President 1965-72, respectively). In 1975, she accepted a staff position at the World Bank in the Division of Environment and Health. As the first anthropologist hired by the World Bank she prepared the first sociocultural impact study to add the human dimensions to the already required environmental impact studies. In 1977 she began her career as a consulting anthropologist to the World Bank and other organizations, while continuing her research on women with an initial two year grant to examine fertility determinants among the Maya.

Her career as an educator included various projects at Brown University (1962-65), New College (1965-68), as visiting professor at Hampshire College (1971), Goddard College (1973), World Campus Afloat (1973-1974), and adjunct professor at the University of Florida (1990-2000).

Dr. Elmendorf participated in all of the United Nations Conferences on Women: Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995). She was a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations Water Conference (1977). In 1992 she was a delegate to the Earth Summit UNCED (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) in Rio de Janeiro. She worked as a consultant for CEDPA (Center for Population and Development Activities) before, during and after the Rio de Janeiro Conference.

The emphasis of her professional career, as it was in much of her research, has been on ways to involve people concerned in the implementation of technology and development. She has focused on involving women--often the primary users and managers--in the planning and implementation of suitable technologies for community participation and involvement, in terms of people's choosing and managing their own development strategies. Some notable projects on which she has worked include preparation of a human impact assessment for the Bura Dam (Kenya) Irrigation Project, the World Bank project on Water Supply and Waste Disposal in Developing Countries, the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, and water projects in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Thailand. Her book and monograph publications include The Mayan Woman and Change (1972), La Mujer Maya y el cambio (1973), Nine Mayan Women (1976), Socio-Cultural Aspects of Water Supply and Excreta Disposal (1980), Seven Case Studies of Rural and Urban Fringe Areas in Latin America (editor, 1982), The International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade (1980-1990) and Women's Involvement (1990).

She is also the author of numerous technical reports, chapters in books, journal articles, and conference presentations. Among the honors and recognition received by Elmendorf are the Margaret Mead Award for applying principles of anthropology to the resolution of issues of contemporary human concern, presented by the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology in 1982. In 1993 the University of North Carolina honored Dr. Elmendorf with its Distinguished Alumna Award.

Mary and her first husband, John Elmendorf, were classmates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1935 to 1937. They married in December of 1937, following graduation. "John and Mary Elmendorf--A Mosaic" (Series 4, Box 1) captures highlights of the 43 years they shared. The John Elmendorf Collection in the Archives of New College documents his role as President. From 1977 to his death in 1980, John Elmendorf continued his career as Vice-President of the Academy for Educational Development in Washington, D.C. Mary Elmendorf later married Dr. John Landgraf, retired anthropologist and adjunct of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida.

Mary Elmendorf's Vitae is available at


57.5 Linear feet (131 Boxes)

Language of Materials



The research and personal papers of anthropologist and author, Mary Lindsay Elmendorf.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The Papers were donated by Mary Elmendorf in 1992 and have been supplemented by additional gifts.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of items in this collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Related Material

A portion of Dr. Elmendorf's Mayan materials were donated to the Smithsonian in 1990 and are now available as part of the National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives.

The John Elmendorf Collection in the New College Archives documents his role as President (1965-1972).

Processing Notes

The original finding guide and inventory for this collection was prepared by Frank Orser, Karen Rogers, and J. Ray Jones. Arrangement and description of the Papers were assisted by a grant from the Wenner-Green Foundation to Dr. Elmendorf. August, 1996 (Accession 1 - Series 1-5). Revisions were made to the original finding aid in 1997, 1998, and 2003. Frank Orser processed the 2nd accession of papers and revised the finding aid in 2004, and John Nemmers processed the 3rd accession of papers and revised the finding aid in 2006.

A Guide to the Mary L. Elmendorf Papers
Finding aid created by Dept. Staff
June 2006 (revised March 2010, July 2016)
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America