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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Riley

On the Trail of the Andersons

This week I received an inquiry requesting information about Mary Elizabeth Anderson (1887-1982) from a gentleman who believed she served as a missionary in Africa for about 35 years. He said she is buried in Wichita, Kansas. It appears he has been searching for more of Mary Elizabeth's history to no avail. He also thought there was a book about her, but he couldn't remember the title or author. This is the type of challenge I find irresistable and most satisfyingly, I turned up some interesting information.

My go-to source for any individual who may be connected to the Adventist church is the Seventh-day Adventist Obituary Index. My initial search in this database turned up nothing. So based on my experience with researching the history of other missionaries, I turned to's immigration and travel records. Success! Between ships' passenger lists and passport applications, I quickly learned that our mysterious missionary was born Mary Elizabeth Perin in Iowa in 1887. And she was married to William Harrison Anderson. With the husband's name I returned to the obituary index and found a treasure trove of details in William's obituaries.

To summarize, Mary Elizabeth Perin was born in Conway, Iowa on December 13, 1887. During Mary Elizabeth's teen years her family moved to Kansas where, according to the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, she taught church school in 1907. In the 1908 Yearbook she is also listed as a missionary licentiate. Union College's student publication, the Educational Messenger reported Mary Perin among the people enrolled in the Central Union Conference's summer school in 1906. However, a check of Union's transcripts and registration books turned up no academic records. And Perin is not listed among Union College alumni honored by a golden cord for their international service.

What remains a mystery is how Mary Elizabeth Perin met William "Harry" Anderson since he was already working in Africa by 1910 when they married. Anderson was born in Mexico, Indiana and was a pioneer in the Solusi Mission. W. H. Anderson is mentioned in Virgil Robinson’s The Solusi Story. Anderson was called to Africa in 1895 while he was still in college and graduated in absentia. The book does not say where he attended college, but according to his obituary this was most likely Battle Creek College. His first wife was from Michigan and she died in the mission field in 1908.

While Mary most likely did not work at Solusi, she did spend somewhere between 35 and 40 years with her husband in Africa. They retired in North Carolina where Harry died in 1950. Thirty-two years later, Mary died in Kansas.

Virgil Robinson’s book, The Solusi Story, is really about Solusi and confuses the Andersons' history. All of Robinson's stories involving Mrs. Anderson at the founding of Solusi are Nora Anderson, the first wife. He doesn’t speak of her death and Anderson just disappears from the story (because they had already moved on to work in other parts of Africa) until Solusi’s 50th anniversary in which W. H. Anderson came back as a celebrity. Robinson again includes “Mrs. Anderson” in the story, but never specifies that this time it is Mary Anderson, the second wife, who appears to have had no part in founding Solusi.

The Solusi Story is probably not the book my inquirer had in mind. There are two better possibilities: Desert Track and Jungle Trail is Virgil Robinson's somewhat fictionalized version of the Anderson story and is dedicated to Mary Anderson. In this book Robinson explains that Anderson met Mary Perin in Takoma Park, Maryland while on furlough in 1910, but still sheds no light on why Mary was in Takoma Park. Approximately half of the story takes place after their marriage.

The second book my inquirer may have been thinking of is W.H. Anderson's own On the Trail of Livingstone. However since it was published in 1919, it can only tell part of the story.

For those interested in learning more about the Andersons, there is likely much more to be discovered by browsing old issues of the Review and Herald, Southern African Division Outlook, and South African Missionary. Searches of the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook would provide a timeline of locations and positions lived in and held by the Andersons. All of these resources are available online through the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.


Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 16, 1950, pg. 112.

Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, August 31, 1950, pg. 20.

Anderson, W. H. On the Trail of Livingstone. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1919.

Educational Messenger, June 15, 1906, pg. 14.

Robinson, Virgil. Desert Track and Jungle Trail. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2013 (reprint of the 1968 original).

Robinson, Virgil. The Solusi Story: Times of Peace, Times of Peril. Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1979.

Southern African Division Outlook, July 1, 1950, pg. 8.

Southern African Division Outlook, August 15, 1950, pg. 6.

Southern Tidings, August 2, 1950, pg. 13-14.

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