Biographical / Historical
Grace Frances Thorpe was born in Yale, Oklahoma on December 10, 1921 to parents James (Jim) Francis Thorpe (Sac and Fox (Sauk)) and Iva Margaret Miller Thorpe. Jim, already a famed athelete and olympic medalist, had met Iva as students at Carlisle Indian School and were married in 1913. Grace was the youngest of four, Gail Margaret, James and Charlotte Marie though her brother James died from polio at a young age. When Iva and Jim divorced in 1923, Iva and the girls moved to Chicago while Jim moved to California to pursue work in the movies. For school, Grace attended St. Mary's Academy, Sacred Heart, in Oklahoma and Haskell Institute in Kansas, which was where her father had attended school.
In 1943 Grace worked briefly at the Ford Motor Company before enlisting in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during WWII. After attending training and graduating from the WAAC Training Center in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, Thorpe attained the rank of Corporal, and served as a Recruiter for the Women's Army Corps stationed in Tucson and Camp White in Oregon before being assigned overseas to the New Guinea Campaign. From 1944-1945 Corporal Thorpe was stationed in New Guinea, Philippines and Japan. Following an Honorable Discharge in 1945, Grace remained in Japan during the occupation with her husband Lieutenant Fred W. Seely (1918-2008) whom she married in June 1946. She became employed at General MacArthur Headquarters as Chief of the Recruitment Section, Department of Army Civilians, Tokyo, Japan. Both of her children, Dagmar (1946-) and Paul Thorpe (1948-1964) were born during this time in Japan.
Grace and her children left Japan and arrived in San Francisco on April 20, 1950. They lived in Pearl River, New York from late 1950 to the mid 1960s. She first became employed as a Hostess with Welcome Wagon upon completing training in July of 1951 and later became a supervisor, business machine salesperson, and territorial account executive for the Yellow Pages with the Reuben H. Donnelly Corp. earning recognition in Distinguished Sales Performance. She completed a course in effective speaking and human relations conducted by the Dale Carnegie Institute and won a Best Speech Award. In 1967, Grace moved to Arizona where she became involved with American Indian tribes. Grace was appointed Economic Development Conference Coordinator for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)'s 1968 and 1969 conferences. In 1969-1970, Grace joined Native American Activists at the occupation of Alcatraz Island for three months and managed their publicity. She then served as a Congressional Intern from 1974-1975 for Senator James Abourezk. Grace was later appointed Legislative Assistant with the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs and as a Task Force Program and Planning Analyst for the American Indian Policy Review Commission. During this time period she attended—The Antioch School of Law, Washington DC; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Research Fellow), Boston, Massachusetts; University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Northeastern University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. During this time she also began working on the restoration of her father's 1912 Olympic titles as well as other projects to recognize and honor her father.
After returning to her tribal homeland in Oklahoma she became active in tribal affairs and in 1983 successfully restored her father's Olympic record. She also conducted genealogical research on the Thorpe family. Her article "The Jim Thorpe Family' was published as a two-part series in the Chronicles of Oklahoma in 1981. In later years, Grace served her tribe as a tribal judge, health commissioner, and became an environmental activist opposing nuclear waste on tribal lands. She remained active in Native American issues, a matriarch of the Thorpe family, and involved with her granddaughter, Tena Malotte, and her great-grandchildren, Aspen and Huna.
Biographical note provided by Dagmar Seely, daughter to Grace Thorpe, with additions by Rachel Menyuk, Processing Archivist.