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Elizabeth Gray Vining
Crown Prince Akihito and Elizabeth Gray Vining
Elizabeth Janet Gray
October 6, 1902
|Died||November 27, 1999
|Alma mater||Germantown Friends School
Bryn Mawr College
|Known for||Teacher of Emperor Akihito|
Morgan Fisher Vining
(m. 1929; died 1933)
|Awards||Newbery Award (1943)|
|Institutions||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Bryn Mawr College
Masahito, Prince Hitachi
Elizabeth Janet Gray Vining (October 6, 1902 – November 27, 1999) was an American professional librarian and author who tutored Emperor Akihito of Japan in English while he was crown prince. She was also a noted author, whose children's book Adam of the Road received the Newbery Medal in 1943.
Early life and education
Elizabeth Janet Gray was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 6, 1902. She was a graduate of Germantown Friends School and received an AB from Bryn Mawr College in 1923. In 1926, she earned an MS in library science from the Drexel Institute, and became a librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She married Morgan Fisher Vining, associate director of the Extension Division of UNC, in 1929. In 1933, her husband was killed in a New York City automobile accident, and Vining was severely injured. During her convalescence, she converted to the Quaker faith.
Vining soon became known as an author, primarily of children's books, and was awarded the 1943 Newbery Medal for Adam of the Road. She had published eleven books by the end of World War II.
Private Tutor to the Japanese Imperial Family
From 1946 to 1950 during the Allied occupation of Japan after the war, Vining was selected by Emperor Hirohito himself (and not the United States government, as is erroneously claimed) to become a private tutor to Crown Prince Akihito, the heir apparent to the Chrysanthemum Throne. As part of her teaching program, she arranged for closely supervised occasions when four Western teenaged boys in Tokyo would get together to help the crown prince practice English conversation. She nicknamed the prince “Jimmy”. ‘His interests in those days were almost entirely confined to fish,’ she wrote later, ‘and I felt they needed broadening.’ The influence of this American pacifist on the young prince was regarded with resentment by right-wing intellectuals; one of them would later complain that Akihito had contracted a spiritual and intellectual ‘fungus’ from his tutor.
In addition to teaching English-language skills, Vining introduced the children of the Imperial Household — Prince Hitachi and the Princesses Kazuko, Atsuko and Takako — to Western values and culture. She also lectured at Gakushūin and at Tsuda College.
For her work, she was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, third class, shortly before her return to the United States in 1950.
After her return to the United States, Vining wrote a book about her experiences in Japan in Windows for the Crown Prince, which appeared in 1952. Vining went on to write over 60 fiction and non-fiction books in her lifetime. She also worked on the Board of Trustees of Bryn Mawr, as vice-president from 1952 to 1971 and was vice-chairwoman of the Board of Directors at the same time. In 1954 Vining received the Women's National Book Association Skinner Award, for "meritorious work in her special field". She received an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Wilmington College in 1962.
- Order of the Sacred Treasure, 1950
- Order of the Precious Crown
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