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One of the most significant women in New Orleans history during the late 19th and early 20th century was instrumental in bringing education to those less fortunate; individuals who would have otherwise been overlooked in traditional


educational settings. Her contributions toward improving society in New Orleans extended also into other important areas as you shall read.

Sophie B. Wright

Sophie Bell Wright was born in 1866 to a respected family who had suffered economically from the effects of the Civil War. When she was only 3, she was severely injured in an accident and rendered unable to walk. For six years following this terrible incident, young Sophie spent her life strapped to a chair enabling her to sit upright.

But this young woman would not allow her disability to limit her determination to help others. As she completed her education attending classes in leather braces and crutches, Sophie, at age 15, opened her own Day School for Girls. You must understand education of girls during the late 19th Century was not stressed for girls since they were expected to fulfill a role of wife and mother using practical skills of running a household rather than school skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Lacking funds, Sophie taught the classes in her own home and set tuition at 50 cents per month.

The success of the girls’ school was significant and by 1884 (three years later), Wright was establishing a free night school for men and boys who she required to be employed during the day and unable to afford a traditional education. By 1900 Sophie’s class enrollments surged to over 1,000 students with many being turned away despite a 1894 report by New Orleans Schools stating that night schools were ineffective and not well attended.

Miss Wright’s contributions toward the improvement of the lives of others also extended to organizing collections for yellow fever victims and terminally ill patients. She was active and served leadership roles with the Prison Reform Association, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and New Orleans Woman’s Club. Under her efforts public playgrounds were expanded including activities for children and needy women.

In 1904 she received the Times Picayune Loving Cup presented annually to the New Orleans citizen who most significantly demonstrated social activism and philanthropy. Sophie was the first woman to have received this award; and the event drew over 15,000 admiring supporters.

In April, 1912, just two months before her death at age 46, Sophie became the first living New Orleanian to have a school named for her. And some years later a statue in her honor was erected at the intersection of Sophie Wright Place and Magazine Street.

Sophie was buried in Metairie Cemetery; but her undying and unselfish spirit has lived on affecting the lives of so many who were positively encouraged by her generosity and spirt despite her physical disability.