Nellie Rathbone Bright was a pioneer educator and civic leader. She also flourished as a writer for the literary magazine “Black Opals.”
Bright spent was born on March 28, 1898, in Savannah, Georgia. She was the only child of the Rev. Richard Bright and Nellie (Jones) Bright. Her father, Rev. Bright, was the first black Episcopal priest in the Savannah Episcopal.
Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, Bright earned her eighth-grade graduation diploma in 1910 from Stanton Public School. She then obtained a diploma as a grade school teacher, from William Penn High, Normal Teacher Training School, in 1916. Bright continued her education in 1919 when she entered the University of Pennsylvania, where she became a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. 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 schools, Bright also participated in the black intellectual renaissance flourishing in many large cities at that time. She co-founded and contributed to the literary magazine Black Opals established in the 1920s to encourage black writers. In addition to literary articles, Bright wrote on black history and black education in early Philadelphia.
After more than a decade of teaching in the Philadelphia public schools, Bright accepted an appointment as a principal in 1935, an office she held at various schools in Philadelphia until 1952.
During her years as a teacher and then principal, Bright served on over fifteen civic boards or organizations directed toward improving schools and neighborhoods. Bright co-authored a children’s book of social history, “American: Red, White, Black, Yellow.”