Elizabeth Gray Vining, author of children’s books and the tutor to the crown prince of Japan, Akihito, was born on October 6, 1902 in Philadelphia. The daughter of John Gordon Gray, a manufacturer of scientific equipment and Anne Moore Gray, Vining was raised in a family which, “root and branch, was a bookish one, with whom reading was an addiction,” (Vining, page 3). Although there were family ties to the Quaker religion, Vining was raised as an Episcopalian in Germantown, Philadelphia.
Vining graduated from Germantown Friends School in 1919, from Bryn Mawr College in 1923 and from Drexel University, with a degree in library science, in 1926.
In 1926, Vining moved to North Carolina to work as an assistant cataloger at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was there that she met Morgan Vining who served as the associate director of the extension division of the University. They were married in 1929, the same year that her first book, Merediths’ Ann, was published. She continued to write children’s books, which were well received by the public.
In 1932, the Vinings moved to New York, New York where Morgan Vining attended the Teacher’s College of Columbia University in anticipation of a degree in university administration. Elizabeth Gray Vining worked at the library of Columbia University. In New York, in 1933, Morgan and Elizabeth Gray Vining suffered an automobile accident in which Morgan was killed and Elizabeth was badly injured.
While recovering from her injuries, Vining turned towards Quakerism and in 1934, formally joined the Society of Friends. At that time she studied at Pendle Hill in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and worked with the American Friends service Committee, offering her writing skills in their service. During the next decade, Vining continued to write both children’s books and books regarding the Quaker faith. In 1942, she published Adam of the Road, which won the 1943 Newberry Medal and is “considered Gray’s masterpiece,” (Carnes, page 572).
Following World War II, Vining was recommended as a tutor for the twelve year old crown prince, Akihito, the son of the defeated Japanese Emperor Hirohito. She served as his tutor for four years, from 1946 to 1950, and is credited as the person “who introduced the future ruler of Japan to the English language, and to the ways of Western democracy,” (Smith). She eventually tutored the prince’s siblings and his mother, the Empress Nagako. She developed strong ties with the entire royal family which lasted the rest of her life.
After returning to the United States in 1950, Vining’s career as an author continued. By the time of her death in 1999, Vining had published more than thirty books, including two memoirs: Windows for the Crown Prince (1952) regarding her experiences in Japan and her autobiography, Quiet Pilgrimage (1970).
Vining died on November 27, 1999 at the age of 97.
Carnes, Mark C., editor. American National Biography: Supplement 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Smith, Dinitia. “Elizabeth Vining, Tutor to a Future Emperor, Dies at 97,” New York Times, December 1, 1999.
Vining, Elizabeth. Quiet Pilgrimage. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1970.