The Contributions of Women to the United States
Naval Observatory: The Early Years.
Miss Alice Mabel Gray
Alice Gray was one of the best and brightest.
She was born November 25, 1881. She
graduated from South Division High School
where she and two of her classmates were
known as "the college class". She came to
the USNO after completion of her degree in
mathematics at the University of Chicago
which she attended under a scholarship given
to her by her high school friend Miss Sarah
Adler. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in
1903 receiving honorable mentions
for excellence in astronomy, mathematics, Latin, and Greek.
Alice Gray spent only a short time
at the USNO. She arrived on October 22,
1903 and was attached to the Division of
Meridian Instruments as a Computer under
William Eichelberger and the Committee on
Edition and Printing. If the monotony of
computing was difficult for other bright
women, it must have been especially difficult
on Alice Gray, she was to say the least, a
free spirit. Not much is known of her work
here at the Observatory, though she was
known to have had an intense interest in
astronomy and wanted to pursue her studies
in tide research. A note found in her
picture file in the observatory library stated
that we do not have a picture of her but in
case we should uncover any photos that we
can not identify, Miss Gray was known to
wear her hair cut short and also worked in
She remained through 1905 when she
apparently left Washington for Germany to
continue her studies at the Gottingen
University. It was in Germany that
she became interested in a "walking commune",
which was a movement that encouraged people to
give up material possessions and live
off the bounty of the land.
Alice Gray returned to the United
States and went to work in Chicago as an
editorial secretary for the Astrophysical
Journal which was published by the University. Miss
Grays real fame came later in
her life when in 1915 at the age of 35, she gave up on
civilization and became a recluse in the
Lake Michigan Dunes. "In solitude when we are least
alone," a passage from Byron served as inspiration
for Alice Gray when she took over an
abandoned shack with little more than
a jelly glass, a knife, a spoon, a blanket, and two guns.
Alice reported that Lord Byron's poem provided
"my first longings to get away from the conventional world,
and I never gave up the idea, although a long time passed
before I could fulfill it."
The press dubbed this beautiful and well educated
daughter of a Chicago physician "Diana of
the Dunes" perhaps in reference to Diana, the
goddess of the moon and Miss Grays habit of
moonlit skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan.
Alice Gray survived in
her ramshackle shack by building driftwood boxes and
selling them to buy bread and salt. She ate fish she
caught and gathered berries and edible
plants from her surroundings. Se patronized the local library,
and spoke in public about her intrest in natural history and
In 1916 she told a local reporter that "I wanted to live my own
life a free life. The life of a salary earner in the
cities is slavery, a constant fight for the means of living."
In 1920 she met
Paul Eisenblatter who went by the name of
Wilson, a fellow recluse, and by 1921 they were
sharing a shack they called Wren's Nest.
Some accounts report that the couple were
married in 1921 but others can not confirm that fact.
Alice Gray Wilson never lost her free spirit,
and there are several reports of her having fiery
confrontations with both the
press and the law including one in which
she received a fractured
Civilization infringed on the couples
privacy and reporters hounded her relentlessly even
her manuscripts were taken from their shack. Eventually
"Diana of the Dunes" and the "Giant of the Dunes"
as Mr. Wilson became to be known because
of his towering six foot five inch height,
made plans to escape to Texas via raft. These plans
were never realized because Mrs. Alice Gray Wilson
died of uremic poisoning after many years
of kidney trouble on February 8, 1925 at the age of
43. Mrs. Wilson's last request to be
cremated and have her ashes scattered over
the dunes was denied possibly because her family
would not allow it and Mr. Wilson did not have the
money to fulfill her wish. Reporters
continued to plague the couple even after her
death when the final assault by reporters at Mrs.
Wilson's funeral caused Mr. Wilson to pull out a
gun and threaten to kill himself as well as a
reporter and Chester Dunn, a nephew of
Mrs. Wilson. Nobody was hurt, but Wilson was
jailed and Alice Gray Wilson was buried in Oakhill
cemetery near Gary Indiana.
Other information about Alice Gray
The Diana of the Dunes Festival and Pagent
is held yearly in Chestertown Indiana and is
sponsored by the Duneland Chamber of Commerce.
The citizens of Chesterton and Porter created
the festival to honor Gray and raise funds for
non-profit organizations in the area. For information
about the festival call (219) 926-5513.
An informative article by David Hoppe was printed in the spring
1997 issue of
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Last modified by msc 26 Aug 1997