Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Amanda V. Gray, 1870-1957

(Amanda Brown Victoria Gray Hilyar)


By Carrie Streeter, PhD Candidate, University of California, San Diego

In 1908, thirty-eight year old Dr. Amanda V. Grey attended the annual gathering of the National Medical Association (NMA). She had been attending these meetings for several years, after graduating in 1903 from Howard University's School of Pharmacy. As she often did, Dr. Grey took the occasion to commend the good work of her colleagues. As an organization of African American medical professionals, the NMA played a critical role in providing medical education and services to underserved black communities. While the words she spoke were not recorded, a reporter made note of her inspirational address: "Dr. Gray spoke clearly and could be heard throughout the spacious auditorium, She was daintily gowned, and sustained Washington's time-honored reputation for being able to combine beauty and fashion with brains and force of character." Her biography certainly bares out such an assessment.

Amanda Victoria Brown was born in Linnaeus, Missouri on March 24, 1870, to Rice and Maria Brown. She grew up in Atchison, Kansas, where she attended the public schools. After graduating from High School, she became a teacher herself. It may have been during that time that she met Arthur Gray, who worked as a school principal in Lawrence, Kansas in the 1880s. By 1893, he had shifted his career, and secured a position as the private secretary to the Chief of the Bureau of Statistics. He and Amanda Brown married the same year, and the new couple made their home in Washington, D.C.

Amanda and Arthur Gray soon became prominent members of Washington, D.C.'s influential community of black educational and social leaders. Mrs. Gray followed suit. In 1899, she completed training at a kindergarten training school then continued her studies in pharmacy at Howard University. One of her early jobs in pharmacy was for the Woman's Clinic in Washington, D.C. Established in 1890, the clinic employed women physicians and pharmacists who provided free care to the community's women and children, regardless of race.

In 1905, Dr. Gray began serving her community's medical needs when she opened The Fountain Pharmacy with her husband, Arthur Gray and his brother Spurgeon Gray, who had earned his degree from the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy in 1897. The pharmacy was ideally located in Reformer's Hall, a recently constructed building that served as the headquarters for a black benevolent society. In addition to housing the pharmacy, it also had a gymnasium and meeting rooms for social clubs. These features helped Fountain Pharmacy become a vital hub that met several needs. In addition to providing medicines, the pharmacy also sold black newspapers, The Washington Bee, and the New York Age. Customers could enjoy a cold soda at the marble counter, or pick up stamps and stationary. Around the time it opened, Fountain Pharmacy was one of the eleven black-owned pharmacies in the nation's capitol, and Dr. Gray was the only black female pharmacist. By 1910, Dr. Gray had added another woman to the family's business, when she hired Minnie Crews, a pharmacist who had also worked at the Woman's Clinic.

As Fountain Pharmacy prospered, Dr. Amanda and Arthur Grey also gave back to their community by supporting civic, literary, and artistic activities, especially for projects that celebrated the history and culture of black Americans. For example, in 1915, Dr. Amanda Gray was one of the patrons and financial backers of W.E.B. Du Bois's Washington, D.C. production of The Star of Ethiopia. Through the early 1900s, Dr. Gray was also leading member of the Bethel Literary and Historical Society, the Colored Business League, and the National Medical Association.

Dr. Gray was one of about one hundred Black women who marched in the suffrage parade sponsored by the National American Woman Suffrage Association in early March 1913 on the eve of the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. There is no other evidence of suffrage activity on her part.

When her husband Arthur Gray died in 1917, Amanda closed Fountain Pharmacy and joined the YWCA's war-time efforts. She served as a hostess at YWCA recreation centers for African American soldiers and was assigned to Camps Upton, Taylor, and Sherman. After completing these assignments, she worked as the president of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA for three years. During this time, she also served as the president of the National Republican Colored Women's Clubs.

In 1922, Dr. Gray married a Andrew Franklin Hilyar, a lawyer and civil rights leader whom she had known for many years. He had lost his wife, Mamie, seven years earlier. Following their wedding in New York City, the couple took a honeymoon to Europe. Reflecting her ongoing labors in service of her community and the YWCA, Dr. Amanda Gray noted her profession as "social worker" when she completed her passport application.

In 1925, Andrew Hilyar passed away. Dr. Gray continued her many civic and social activities. She served on the advisory council of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, was president and member of the board of the Ionia R. Whipper Home (a facility that supported unwed mothers), and was a member of the Association for the Study of Negro life and History, an organization spearheaded by historian Carter G. Woodson. In June 1957, she became the first lifetime member of the Washington branch of the NAACP. It would be among one of her final acts in a lifetime of activism. In October 1957, Dr. Amanda Gray passed away at her home in Washington, D.C.


Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, inc. [from old catalog]. Facts About the Association for the Study of Negro Life And History. Washington, D.C, 1919.

(Dr. Amanda Gray presenting a check to NAACP leaders in Washington, D.C.). The Crisis 64 no. 8 (October 1957): 460.

Emergency Medical Directory, Showing Leading Physicians, Dental Surgeons, and Trained Nurses of Washington, D.C., compliments of the Fountain Pharmacy, Gray & Gray, Library of Congress, Accessed July 16, 2019

"Footnotes," (Dr. Gray's speech at National Medical Association in New York), The Washington Bee, 5 September 1908.

"How Did the National Woman's Party Address the Issue of the Enfranchisement of Black Women, 1919-1924?" Document 13, "Letter from Alice Paul to Mrs. William Spencer Murray, 24 January 1921, in Women in Social Movements, Accessed July 15, 2019.

Moore, Jacqueline M. Leading the Race: The Transformation of the Black Elite in the Nation's Capital, 1880-1920. Charlottesville, VA: The University Press of Virginia, 1999.

"'The Star of Ethiopia' Presented at Ball Park," Evening Star, 12 October 1915.

"The Woman's Clinics," The Washington Bee, 18 November 1911.

Trieschmann, Laura V.; Sellin, Anne; Callcott, Stephen (November 1998), National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Greater U Street Historic District, Accessed July 16, 2019.

Vu, Angel and Denise Dempsey. "A Family of Pharmacists." Accessed July 15, 2019.

Wallace, Emma Gary. "Women In Pharmacy." The Pharmaceutical Era 45 (October 1912): 646.


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