Born in Heidelberg, Germany, she received her BA degree from Bryn Mawr in 1950 and her Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1957. From 1950 to 1952, she was a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford University.
Gray was an instructor at Bryn Mawr in 1953-54 and taught at Harvard from 1955 to 1960. In 1961, she was appointed to an assistant professorship in the department of history at the University of Chicago's and in 1964, became an Associate Professor, having been a Visiting Lecturer at Harvard the previous year. She was appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of history at Northwestern University in 1972. In 1974, she was elected Provost of Yale University with an appointment as professor of history. From 1977 to 1978, she served as acting president of Yale.
She has been a Fellow of Newberry Library, a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, a Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar . She is also an Honorary Fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. In addition, Gray holds honorary degrees from more than 20 colleges and universities, including Oxford, Yale, the University of Chicago, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, Duke and the Universities of Michigan and Toronto. In 1997, she received the M. Carey Thomas Award from Bryn Mawr College, its highest honor.
In addition to serving as a trustee of the Mellon Foundation, Gray has also been on the Boards of Bryn Mawr College and Yale University. She continues to serve as a member of the Harvard University Corporation, the Marlboro School of Music, and the Board of Regents of The Smithsonian Institution. She chairs the Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Gray was one of 12 distinguished foreign-born Americans to receive a Medal of Liberty Award from President Reagan at ceremonies marking the rekindling of the Statue of Liberty's lamp in 1986. In 1991, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President Bush. She received both ?the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Jefferson Medal from the American Philosophical Society in 1993.)
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