Nellie Rathbone Bright family papers

The Nellie Rathbone Bright family papers consist of three principal components supplemented by a smaller, but important, assemblage of photographs as well as notes on family history. One of the main components offers a biographical listing of dates of major milestones in Bright́s life, such as grad...

Full description

Collection: Nellie Rathbone Bright Family Papers
Collection Number: 2057
Main Author: Bright, Nellie Rathbone 1898-1977 (Creator)
Format: Manuscript
Language: English
Subjects and Genres: More/Less
Online Access: Link to finding aid
Tags: Add Tag
No Tags, Be the first to tag this record!
Item Description: Processing Information: Original envelopes and frames for photographs were placed in separate folders; a preservation photocopies of the envelopes have been placed with these items where appropriate. One of these envelopes lists enclosures for fourteen photos; however, numbers 1, 7, 9, 12-14 were never a part of this collection.
Physical Description: 1.0 Linear feet ; 2 boxes, 1 volume, 2 flat files
Summary: The Nellie Rathbone Bright family papers consist of three principal components supplemented by a smaller, but important, assemblage of photographs as well as notes on family history. One of the main components offers a biographical listing of dates of major milestones in Bright́s life, such as graduations and civic awards, prepared by her in 1973 for entry into a publication, A Biographical Dictionary of Living Black American Writers, published by R.R. Bowker. Another comprises a scrapbook documenting the work of her father, the Rev. Richard Bright, first as an Episcopal priest in Savannah, Georgia, and later, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The third major component contains 146 pages of letters, the majority of which were written by Nellie to her father. There are also photographs of the Brights, their ancestors, and close family friends; six lithographic prints; and miscellaneous ephemera. Index cards containing a short genealogical survey of the Bright family, and which also cite instances of racial violence directed against her motheŕs family, make up a smaller, but notable component of the collection. Nellie Bright́s biographical listing, her fatheŕs scrapbook, and family correspondence offer insight into the Bright family experience. Her fatheŕs scrapbook, with newspaper articles referencing his work, articles addressing issues important to blacks at that time, church programs detailing a congregatiońs activities, or simply news of the familýs travels, all serve as a landscape against which to view Nellie Bright́s own later list of accomplishments. The scrapbook articles require careful reading, for while they follow a fairly consistent chronology, they often lack dates and names of publication. In addition, information pertaining to the Rev. Bright́s early years as a student will appear in later articles offering a brief review of his career. For example, background on the Bright familýs friendship with Caroline Rathbone, a white woman, who later became his daughteŕs godmother, appears in an article detailing Rathbonés funeral, held in Evansville, Indiana. A black mańs officiating at a white womańs funeral produced the column headline, ́Colored Man to Take Part in Funeral at St. Pauĺs Church́ announced in The Evansville Courier, December 23, 1901. The article mentions that Rev. Bright was once Rathbonés Sunday School student in New York. The article has a condescending tone, referring to Rathbone as Rev. Bright́s ́benefactor,́ and as the woman who ́taught him the real meaning of life.́ The scrapbook offers few references to Nelliés mother. There is a brief (undated) wedding announcement early in the book, and later a death notice dated December 17, 1914, which appears on the same page as several articles concerning the death of Mrs. Bright́s father, Q.B. Jones, in 1894. Even though they lack detailed biographical data, the articles provide a representative portrait of the Rev. Bright in his capacity as Episcopal priest. Many articles reference his reputation as an excellent speaker and often provide a summary of his chosen sermon topics. One clipping reported a sermon preached July 4, 1898, at the time of the Spanish-American War. In this sermon, Rev. Bright contrasted what he termed ́trué and ́falsé patriotism. He criticized ́certain members of Congress who have shown their lukewarm patriotism by crying out for war, but when war was declared, they were not to be seen among those who went to the front.́ The Rev. Bright encouraged his congregants to lend their support to the war if necessary: ́There was no time when the colored people had shirked their duty to their country.́ Other articles indicate Rev. Bright was also a respected author of religious pamphlets, and the Episcopal newspaper, Church Advocate, in an edition dated August 12, 1893, published a column in which he argues for the church́s continuing investment in education. Additionally, the scrapbook contains a certificate from the Library of Congress dated March 2, 1900, registering ́St. Stepheńs Catechisḿ prepared by Rev. Richard Bright in 1892. Letters written to Nelliés father while she studied sketching and painting at the University of Vermont in the summer of 1928 shed light on her accomplishments as an artist; Nellie writes of being praised for her work by her instructors. In the summer of 1929, Nellie studied at the Berkshire Summer School of Art in Monterey, Massachusetts. In both Vermont and Massachusetts, it is notable how Nelliés experience of being, presumably, one of very few Black students was essentially a positive one. She speaks highly of her classmates and the kindnesses shown her. Also apparent in the letters is her strong affection for her father, whom she invariably addresses as ́My dear sweet Papie.́ Although Bright́s own papers offer few clippings documenting her work, those available complement the biographical listing of her life as an educator. An article announcing her first appointment as principal in 1935 offers insight into other possibilities open to her. The article (no date or name of publication) contains a subheading, ́Appointment To Hill School Comes As A Surprise,́ and notes that Bright had expressed a desire ́to withdraw from the field and retire to a foreign country.́ Bright, possessing talents which included foreign language and writing skills, demonstrated capabilities reaching beyond education. However, Bright accepted this appointment as principal and served as principal of two other schools until retiring in 1952. After 1952, Bright offered courses on black history at the Fellowship House in Philadelphia. In 1970, at the age of 72, she and fellow Penn alum Arthur Huff Fauset co-authored American--Red, White, Black, Yellow, a book for children and young adults on the history of minorities in the United States. A flyer advertising this book is included in her papers. The collection includes a list of awards recognizing her efforts to improve the learning and living environment of her students. An article from The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1950, refers to her recent Fellowship Commission award and quotes Bright: ́I believe all people can work together, especially to help themselveśŒ[W]hile striving for a common goal, racial and religious differences are forgotten.́ Another clipping notes that Bright will be recognized ́in the forthcoming housing feature in the June issue of Color magazine.́ Other awards recognizing her leadership abilities include her 1957 appointment to the Mayoŕs Scholarship Committee, the 1970 National Sojourner Truth Meritorious Service award (mentioned in her notes) and a 1972 certificate inducting her as a member of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. Photographs in the collection include one of Bright upon her graduation from Stanton School and two undated photographs taken as an adult. Other photos of Bright show her as a principal with students on the occasion of their earning a television set for the school (1952), and with Bill Coale, whom she notes as a friend and co-chair of the Germantown & Chestnut Hill Housing Council, founded in 1945. There are also two photos of her father in his Episcopal vestments, early photos of her parents, one of her motheŕs sister, as well as photos of her fatheŕs parents and grandparents. There are also several photos of family friends, including one of Caroline Rathbone. There are a number of photos of St. Thomas, where Rev. Bright was born, as well as local clippings in the Bright scrapbook recounting visits to the island. There are photographs of Nellie Bright́s oil paintings depicting scenes of St. Thomas as well as a Canadian scene. In addition, the collection contains a few personal notes to Bright from friends, a 45 rpm recording signed by the composer, Alton A. Adams, Sr., and a colored pencil sketch of Bright by E. Agafonoff, dated 1931. There are two black and white pencil sketches of two different males, both dated 1927. The scrapbook contains memorabilia such as steamship tickets and brochures announcing Rev. Bright́s travel lectures. Other ephemera include various church pamphlets and a copy of The Courtship of Miles Standish: Elizabeth by Henry W. Longfellow. Included also are six lithographs of political figures by Wm. H. Brown for E.B. & E.C. Kellogg Co and a front page color illustration of the sailing ship ́Savannah́ from The Literary Digest, dated December 21, 1929.
Nellie Rathbone Bright, born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1898, was the only child of the Rev. Richard Bright and his wife, Nellie (Jones) Bright. Despite segregation barriers, the African American Bright family attained educational levels surpassing those of the general population of their generation. Rev. Bright, assigned to the Episcopal diocese in Savannah, Georgia, in 1891, was appointed two decades later to a Philadelphia parish and moved his family to that city. A student of Philadelphia public schools, Nellie Rathbone Bright qualified as a grade school teacher with a special certificate for sewing in 1916. She then entered the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1923 with a B.A. in English. Single all her life, Bright spent her entire career as a teacher and then principal in the Philadelphia school system. Her efforts as an educator, spanning more than thirty years, focused not only on the schools but also on the housing and neighborhoods in which her students lived. In addition to her leadership abilities, Bright also possessed literary talents which she employed to support various causes throughout her career, ranging from contributing to black literary reviews to writing history for children. The Nellie Rathbone Bright family papers include 146 pages of letters, biographical notes, and a number of photographs. The collection also includes a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings and church programs relating to Nellie Bright́s father, the Rev. Richard Bright, and his work as an Episcopal priest in Savannah, Georgia, and Philadelphia. These materials provide a mosaic-like portrait of Bright́s life as the daughter of a religious leader committed to educating young children. These articles offer glimpses of the richness and wealth of Nellie Rathbone Bright́s contribution to education in Philadelphia.