Question of the Week

A prominent educator, this woman co-authored the children’s history book American - Red, White, Black, Yellow. Who was she?

Tuesday, 6/10/14

Answer: Nellie Rathbone Bright

Nellie Rathbone Bright was born in Savannah, Georgia, in March 1898, the only child of the Reverend Richard Bright and Nellie Jones Bright. Rev. Bright was the first African American Episcopal priest in the Savannah Episcopal diocese. In the early 1900s, he accepted an appointment in Philadelphia and moved his family north. Nellie Bright was educated at a variety of schools in Philadelphia, including the University of Pennsylvania, where she became a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Gamma chapter. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English in 1923. In addition to her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Bright also pursued research at the Sorbonne and Oxford, as well as art studies at the Berkshire School of Art in Berkshire Hills, Massachusetts.

While working as a young teacher in the Philadelphia schoolsin the late 1920s, Bright co-founded and contributed to the literary magazine Black Opals to encourage African American writers. In 1935, Bright accepted an appointment as a Philadelphia public school principal, an office she held at various schools in the city until 1952. Later, Bright taught in-service courses on African American history for other teachers.

Throughout her life,  Bright served on over fifteen civic boards or organizations directed towards improving schools and neighborhoods through open housing, improvements in city health services, and facilitating cooperation among diverse members of society. Her efforts continued into her later years, when in 1970, at the age of seventy-two, Bright co-authored a children’s book of social history, American - Red, White, Black, Yellow. She died in Philadelphia in
February 1977.

The Nellie Rathbone Bright family papers (#2057) at HSP contains correspondence, photographs, some personal material pertaining to Nellie, and a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings and church programs relating the Rev. Richard Bright and his work as an Episcopal priest in Savannah, Georgia, and Philadelphia.

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