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Women’s History Month

All-Star #22: Nellie Rathbone Bright

Women’s History Month

All-Star #22: Nellie Rathbone Bright

A governor. The world’s first computer programmers. Lawyers, doctors, writers, artists and activists. Philadelphia’s history is full of incredible, history-making women whose stories, unfortunately, are often all but missing from the history books.

It shouldn’t take a dedicated month—Women’s History Month—to recognize the contributions of these heroines. But in honor of the occasion, we scoured history to find several badass Philly women to celebrate for our Women’s History Month All-Stars.

RELATED: A cadre of visionary women are behind Guild House Hotel—a newly opened boutique hotel that celebrates the history residing in our buildings by giving props to the early feminists who initially occupied the property.

22

Nellie Rathbone Bright

Teacher / Poet / Author

Nellie Rathbone Bright

Teacher / Poet / Author

1898-1977

A devoted teacher and principal, Nellie Rathbone Bright was part of the Harlem Renaissance, through her role in the Black Opals, a literary group that published a magazine of the same name from Philadelphia. (The name pays homage to a poem from its first issue). Like similar groups in other east coast cities, the Black Opals were considered an extension of the Harlem Renaissance.

Bright and her family were part of the Great Migration, as they moved from Savannah, Georgia, to Philadelphia when Bright was 12. While studying at Penn, Bright was a founding member of the Gamma chapter of the university’s first Black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.

A landscape painter who was fluent in Spanish and French, Bright also studied at the Sorbonne and University of Oxford, University of Vermont and at the Berkshire School of Art in Massachusetts. She co-authored the book American – Red, White, Black, Yellow, with her longtime colleague Arthur Fauset, which focuses on the history of minorities in the United States.


EDUCATION

  • Stanton Public School
  • William Penn High
  • University of Pennsylvania, 1923


ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Founding member of Penn’s first Black sorority
  • Member of Black Opals, part of the Harlem Renaissance
  • Devoted teacher and principal


FINAL WORDS:
Historian Allen Ballard, who had been her student at the segregated Joseph E. Hill School, said: “We were all Nellie Bright’s children and she expected great things from us. And so she created a wonderful school. Miss Bright saw to it that the Hill School was immaculate and vibrantly decorated with pictures and posters. She and her staff made the achievements of Blacks a cause for year-round celebration.”


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