Ella Cara Deloria, also called Aŋpétu Wašté Wiŋ (Beautiful Day Woman), was an educator, anthropologist, ethnographer, linguist, and novelist of European American and Native American (American Indian) ancestry.
Mrs. Deloria was born in Yankton Indian Reservation, South Dakota, United States, on January 30, 1888. Her parents were Mary (or Miriam) (Sully) Bordeaux Deloria and Philip Joseph Deloria, the family having Yankton Dakota, English, French and German roots. (The family surname goes back to a French trapper ancestor named Francois-Xavier Delauriers.)
Her father was one of the first Sioux to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her mother was the daughter of Alfred Sully, a general in the US Army, and a Métis Yankton Sioux. Ella Deloria was the first child to the couple, who each had several daughters by previous marriages. Her full siblings were sister Susan and brother Vine Deloria Sr., who became an Episcopal priest like their father.
Ella Deloria was brought up on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, at Wakpala, and was educated first at her father's mission school, St. Elizabeth’s and All Saints Boarding School. She went to a boarding school in Sioux Falls. After graduation, she attended Oberlin College, Ohio, to which she had won a scholarship. After two years at Oberlin, Mrs. Deloria transferred to Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1915.
From 1915 to 1919 she worked as a teacher at All Saints School, Sioux Falls, SD. Ella Cara Deloria served as a secretary of health education for Indian schools and reservations at Young Women’s Christian Association, beginning in 1919. Since 1923 she was a physical education teacher ar Haskell Indian School, Lawrence, KS.
During the period of 1927-1942 Mrs. Deloria acted as a research specialist in American Indian ethnology and linguistics, working with anthropologist Franz Boas Columbia University, New York City. Mrs. Deloria met Franz Boas while at Teachers College, and began a professional association with him that lasted until his death in 1942. Boas recruited her as a student, and engaged her to work with him on the linguistics of Native American languages.
She also worked with Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, prominent anthropologists who had been graduate students of Boas. For her work on American Indian cultures, she had the advantage of fluency in the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota dialects of Sioux, in addition to English and Latin.
In 1938-39, Ella Deloria was one of a small group of researchers commissioned to do a socioeconomic study on the Navajo Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs; it was funded by the Phelps Stokes Fund. They published their report, entitled The Navajo Indian Problem.
In addition to her work in anthropology (of which more below), Mrs. Deloria had a number of jobs, including teaching (dance and physical education), lecturing and giving demonstrations (on Native American culture), and working for the Camp Fire Girls and for the YWCA. She also held positions at the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City, South Dakota, and as assistant director at the W.H. Over Museum in Vermillion.
From 1942 to 1955 she was a researcher, writer, and lecturer. In 1955-1958 Mrs. Deloria held the post of a director of St. Elizabeth’s Mission, Wakpala, SD. From 1958 till 1971 Ella Deloria worked as a researcher, lecturer, and writer.
Ella Deloria had a series of strokes in 1970, dying the following year of pneumonia.