By Chris Nicholl
Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs
Suffragist, feminist activist.
Natalie Hoyt Gray was born in 1894 in Illinois to Laurence Tenney Gray and the former Susan (Susie) Huntington Bean. The Grays relocated to Colorado Springs, becoming significant social reformers. Gray’s grandmother, Mary Davy Tenney Gray, of Kansas, was a prominent woman’s education and equality advocate known as a founder “of the first association of women’s clubs in the west.” Laurence Gray, a lawyer and mining engineer, ran for Colorado’s lieutenant governor as a Populist around 1900. Susie Gray was a co-founder of the Colorado Springs Woman’s Club, Civic League, and Colorado Branch Congressional Union for Woman’s Suffrage/ NWP, which located its state headquarters in Colorado Springs in 1916. Along with compiling a digest of Colorado’s laws affecting women for the NWP’s Legal Department, Susie was treasurer of the Colorado Branch NWP until her death in 1939.
While a Colorado College student, Natalie Gray assisted with local NWP events. In August 1917, she joined the NWP at Washington, D.C., where she led a march to the White House with an incendiary banner comparing President Wilson to the German Kaiser. An outraged crowd along with fifty police officers attacked the women. Dozens of banners were destroyed and several women injured, including Gray who was attacked and bruised by eight police officers. The mob attacked the NWP headquarters, and a shot was fired into the building. In spite of the violence, the pickets returned to the street the next day. Gray and five others were arrested and found guilty of obstructing traffic. Refusing to pay the ten-dollar fine, Gray pled not guilty and served a month’s imprisonment at the Occoquan Workhouse.
In the fall of 1917, Gray served as National Committee Petition Chairman, organizing telegram and letter campaigns to elected representatives. As a paid organizer Gray traveled Colorado and the north-western states, building support by telling her slide-illustrated story of abuse and imprisonment. In June 1920, alongside of Alice Paul, Gray joined a suffrage delegation in Chicago to President-elect Warren Harding.
In 1921, Gray entered law studies in San Francisco. She married William Sheffer in December 1921. In 1923, she participated in the Equal Rights Amendment gala at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The Sheffers lived in California where Will was a prominent dentist. In 1917, Susie Gray, when sending her only daughter, Natalie, to picket in Washington, D.C., announced, “I have no son to give my country to fight for democracy abroad and so I send my daughter to Washington to fight for democracy at home.” Ironically, both of Natalie Gray’s daughters, Natalyn and Elizabeth, served in the U.S. military during World War II. Natalie Gray Sheffer died in California in September 1955. She is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.
Chris Nicholl, “Dr. Caroline Spencer & Colorado Springs’ Radicals for Reform,” in Tim Blevins, et al., eds., Extraordinary Women of the Rocky Mountain West (Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak Library District, 2010), 291-98; Manly and Eleanor Dayton Ormes, The Book of Colorado Springs, (Colorado Springs: Dentan Printing Company, 1933), 311-13; Mary Tenney Gray in History of Wyandotte County, Kansas and Its People, ed. and comp. by Perl W. Morgan (Chicago, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1911), Chap. XXIII, pt. 2; Inez Haynes Gilmore, The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party (Fairfax, VA: Denlinger’s Publishers, 1977), 220, 237, 243; Linda G. Ford, Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party, 1912-1920 (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America,1991), 187; National Woman’s Party Papers, Library of Congress: Natalie Gray to Anne Martin, Oct. 3, 1917, Reel 49, National Committee Petition Chairman in “Fall Organizing Report,” Nov. 1917, Reel 52; work in CO, Caroline Spencer to Alice Paul, Nov. 7, 1918, Reel 64; Natalie Gray (Sheffer) birth and death: California Death Records at RootsWeb.com.