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 pants!
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 Dune lore. 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 Paul 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 skull.
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 Traces

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Last modified by msc 26 Aug 1997