Women of the Pro-Life Movement: Nellie Gray
Last week, I wrote the first in a series of blogs for women’s history month: “Women of the Pro-life Movement,” and highlighted the dedication of an inspirational woman, Dr. Mildred Jefferson. Today I want to highlight the pro-life stalwart and founder of the largest and longest running pro-life demonstration in the world: Nellie Gray.
Nellie was born in Texas and served in World War II in the Women’s Army Corps, following that she went on to work for the State Department in Germany. When Nellie Gray heard about the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade /Doe v. Bolton decision to invalidate all state abortion laws, she was working as a lawyer for the federal government in Washington, D.C.
Fearing that January 22 would come and go with no recognition by the public, Nellie and a group of pro-life advocates gathered at her home in Washington to discuss ways to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the thousands of lives lost that year. In hopes that the decision would soon be overturned, they organized a one-time march around the U.S. Capitol, which drew an estimated 20,000 people. When it was clear that Roe v. Wade was not going to be easily overturned, the March for Life was incorporated as a non-profit, non-sectarian organization, committed to the “Life Principles”. Nellie quit her job to work as the full time volunteer president of the organization and principal organizer of the event.
Apart from organizing the annual March for Life, Nellie and the early March for Life Committee, lobbied on behalf of the unborn on Capitol Hill, advocating for a “Human Life Amendment”. They organized “mini-marches” encouraging citizen lobbying, as well as marches in cities around the country from New York to Washington State. Sometimes referred to as the “Joan of Arc of the pro-life movement,” Nellie was known for her unwavering commitment to life and would accept “no exceptions, no compromise” on the taking of innocent human life. Nellie was committed to protecting life regardless of the circumstances.
For 41 years, thanks to the dedication of Nellie Gray, who passed away in August of 2012, the March for Life has taken place in Washington, D.C. every January, even in several feet of snow. As Nellie once said “We will be here until we overturn Roe v. Wade, and believe me, we are going to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Today, the March for Life, draws hundreds of thousands, young and old alike, to Washington D.C. to protest abortion in America, and to celebrate the right to life.
Watch this inspiring video about the legacy which Nellie built at the March for Life: