Elizabeth Janet Gray was born on October 6, 1902, in Philadelphia, to a Scottish father and a Quaker mother whose family had preceded William Penn to America. From both sides came a rich tradition of song and story, and Gray's writings reflect a devotion to history. She attended the Germantown Friends School and began her literary career with a story published in the Young Churchman. She earned two dollars for the work.
Entering Bryn Mawr College before she was seventeen, Gray completed college by the age of twenty and spent a year tutoring, writing short stories, and receiving rejection slips. She obtained a degree in library science from the Drexel Institute, but soon realized that her life's work lay in writing books.
In 1929 Gray married Morgan Vining, an administrator at the University of North Carolina, and she combined housekeeping with writing and teaching. Meggy Macintosh and Jane Hope came from her years in North Carolina, which ended with her husband's death in an automobile accident in 1933. After a brief stay in Washington, D.C., Gray returned to Philadelphia to live with her mother and her older sister. Many of her best known titles were published in the next ten years, including the Newbery Award-winning Adam of the Road. In 1934 Gray returned to the Quaker faith of her mother's family, joining the Society of Friends. She says that religion provided new strength and meaning for her life at a time when she desperately needed both.
During World War II, she joined the staff of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia and spent nearly two years writing reports and articles. In 1946 the emperor of Japan sought an American Christian woman to teach English to the crown prince. Gray was appointed tutor to Crown Prince Akihito, and she lived in Japan until 1950. After her return to the U.S., Gray became a popular public speaker and resumed her writing career, recounting her time in Japan in Windows for the Crown Prince (1952), published under the name Elizabeth Gray Vining. Although written for adults, younger readers may also enjoy the book's insights into Japanese culture.
Gray has been awarded fourteen honorary degrees from various universities. In addition, she has won many honors, including the New York Herald Tribune Festival award in 1945 for Sandy, the Third Order of the Sacred Crown from Japan in 1950, and the Women's National Books Association Skinner Award in 1954. Gray also served for many years on the board of trustees for Bryn Mawr. She currently lives in Pennsylvania.
The daughter of John Gordon Gray and Anne Iszard Gray, Elizabeth Janet Gray was born on October 6, 1902, in the old Germantown section of Philadelphia. She demonstrated an aptitude for literature early in life and began writing for school publications while in grade school in Germantown. She later attended Germantown Friends School and Bryn Mawr College; both institutions were associated with the Society of Friends religion, more commonly called Quakerism.
After receiving her bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr in 1923, Gray started writing full-time but could not get her stories published. After a year of teaching, she enrolled in the library science program at Drexel Institute, now Drexel University. She earned her bachelor of science degree in 1926 and accepted a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she published her first books and met Morgan Fisher Vining, a university administrator whom she married in 1929.
After sustaining serious injuries in a 1933 automobile accident that killed her husband, Gray moved to Washington, D.C. To help cope with the loss of her husband, she began attending Quaker meetings and began research for her book Young Walter Scott. In 1934 she returned to Philadelphia to live with her mother and older sister. She maintained her attachment to Quakerism, and her life and writings thereafter were profoundly influenced by her religion.
As a pacifist Quaker, Gray was horrified by World War II, but she contributed to the healing process after the conflict when, in 1946, she accepted an appointment as tutor to Crown Prince Akihito of Japan. She spent four years in Japan and described her experience in the best-selling autobiographical work Windows for the Crown Prince (1952), published under her married name, Elizabeth Gray Vining. Her other adult books, also published under her married name, include the nonfiction works Contributions of the Quakers (1939), Friend of Life: The Biography of Rufus M. Jones (1958), and Flora: A Biography (1966); the novels The Virginia Exiles (1955), Take Heed of Loving Me (1964), and I, Roberta (1967); and the autobiographical studies Return to Japan (1960), Quiet Pilgrimage (1970), and Being Seventy: The Measure of a Year (1978).
Gray also continued to write fiction and biographies for young adults. Gray has received numerous honorary degrees and other awards, including the 1943 Newbery Medal for Adam of the Road. From 1952 to 1971 she served on the Board of Trustees of Bryn Mawr College. In 1972 she retired to Kendalat- Longwood, a Quaker retirement community near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.