Merritt Gordon Vaiden was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on 31 October 1893 and was educated at the University of Kentucky, Mississippi College, and Bowling Green Business University. He worked for a time in Arkansas, where he met and married Carolyn Joyce, but soon moved to Rosedale, Mississippi, where he worked as a bookkeeper for plantations in the Mississippi Delta. His professional work led him to write of the economics of cotton production in 1931 and 1932, but he is best known for his avocation, studying birds.
Vaiden had a lifelong passion for birds and began collecting them in 1919. His initial collection was destroyed by fire, and he renewed his bird collecting in 1937, preparing scientific study skins and ultimately amassing a personal collection of more than thirty-two hundred birds. In 1943 he taught his wife how to prepare the skins, and she ultimately prepared about two thousand of the specimens. In the late 1960s the collection was donated to the University of Mississippi as a teaching and research collection. Vaiden was a keen observer of nature and carefully recorded his observations, publishing short articles on Mississippi birds in regional and national scientific journals. He regularly corresponded with professional ornithologists, and his observations of Mississippi birds are frequently cited in scientific publications.
On 3 May 1959 Vaiden gathered a number of his friends, especially the young people he considered promising naturalists, and formally organized the Mississippi Delta Naturalists’ Club. The group elected Alan Feduccia of Cleveland as president, Edgar Grissom of Cleveland as vice president, and Beauvais Staples of Rosedale as secretary-treasurer. The club began planning a journal to chronicle members’ scientific efforts, and the first of the Mississippi Delta Naturalists’ Club Occasional Papers was issued in July 1960 and included Vaiden’s article, “Interesting Mississippi Delta Birds.” Each subsequent issue was four pages in length, and most included articles by Vaiden. The journal changed its name to Mississippi Naturalists’ Club: The Mississippi Kite, Occasional Papers, in October 1962 and continued publishing until September 1967.
Several of the young men whom Vaiden mentored, among them Feduccia, Sammy Ray, and Billy Smith-Vaniz, went on to distinguished careers in science. Staples became a writer and immortalized Vaiden in her short story “The Bird Collection.”
Vaiden died on 17 June 1975.
- Beauvais Staples McCaddon, Virginia Quarterly Review (Autumn 1993)
- Merritt Gordon Vaiden, Oologist (1940)
- Merritt Gordon Vaiden, Wilson Bulletin (1940)
- Merritt Gordon Vaiden with J. O. Smith and W. E. Ayres, Mississippi Agriculture Experiment Station Bulletin 290 (1931)