Georgia (Neese) Gray*

Georgia (Neese) Gray*

donor plaque
Georgia (Neese) Gray*

The late Georgia (Neese) Clark Gray, ba '21, was born January 27, 1900 in Richland, Kan., the daughter of Albert Neese, a farmer and businessman, and Ellen O'Sullivan Neese. Gray attended school in Topeka and graduated from Washburn College in 1921. She majored in economics at Washburn and was a member of several student organizations. She was president of the drama club and a member of the Upsilon chapter of Alpha Phi. She was an excellent student and was particularly good with numbers. Georgia was called to membership in NoNoSo the women's honor society. She developed an interest in acting and after graduation attended the Franklin Sargent School of Dramatic Art. Georgia Neese began her acting career with various stock companies. Gray pursued an acting career from 1921 to 1931, living in New York City, getting to know Helen Hayes and Charlie Chaplin, touring the country and earning $500 a week. While she was in New York, Georgia hired a manager named George M. Clark. George and Georgia were married in 1929. Although the marriage ended in divorce in the mid-1940s, she continued to be known as Georgia Neese Clark throughout her professional career. When the Depression and the onset of "talkies", motion pictures with sound, cut short her stage career, she returned home to care for her ailing father. In recognition of her successful career as a thespian, Washburn named the university theatre in her honor: Andrew J. & Georgia Neese Gray Theatre.  

Gray started working at her father's Richland State Bank as an assistant cashier in 1935 and "learned the business from the ground up." At the death of her father in 1937, Georgia inherited control and the presidency of Richland State Bank, as well as the family's general store, grain elevator, lumber yard, insurance agency, many farms and other real estate. She was active in the state Democratic Party and was elected National Committee Woman in Kansas in 1936, a position she held until 1964. She was an articulate and well-liked representative of the party and an early supporter of Harry Truman. It was this support that brought about her nomination as the first woman to be Treasurer of the United States, a position she held from 1949-1953. Reminiscing about her conversation with President Truman, Gray said Truman pointed out the disadvantages of the job including the low pay and asked her if she could afford to take the job. She replied, "Mr. President, can I afford not to?" This is indicative of the zest and style with which she represented her position as first woman treasurer. She married Andrew J. Gray, a journalist and press agent, in 1953. Georgia gave generously to the causes that touched her heart and mind. She died October 26, 1995.