Charles Wright was a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His business was one of banking and railroads, which brought him to Tacoma. He was part of the committee that ventured to the Pacific Northwest in 1872 to determine the final destination for the Northern Pacific Railroad. He later became president of Tacoma Land Company and spokesman for "the City of Destiny" that was Tacoma.
In 1881, Wright wrote to Bishop Paddock and asked him how he could further support Tacoma. Paddock answered that the little town of some 1,000 people needed a church and a school which would "make possible Christian education for the rising generation of daughters of the pioneers." Wright agreed and outlined his vision for the school:
“The school will provide education for the rising generation of daughters of the pioneers, children who will lay a firm foundation for the great state that is to be, a state which will require them to have kind, not callous hearts; joyous, not pampered spirits; broad, not petty minds; refined, not tawdry tastes; direct, not shifting speech – women who will meet wealth with simplicity, and poverty with dignity, and face life with quiet strength – developing from strength to strength; contributing to the righteous up-building of this great country.”
The original location of the new seminary was established near Wright Park in Tacoma, Washington. Paddock named the school in honor of Wright’s daughter, Annie.
Annie Wright Seminary opened its doors to 46 students from the Washington Territory, Oregon, British Columbia and Hawaii. At that time, there were ten members of the faculty. The first school catalog outlined the offerings of Annie Wright Seminary: "For board, furnished room, tuition in English branches and Latin, and laundry service, $350 a year."
The first headmistress recalled, "The school opened with a small attendance, but grew rapidly and soon was full to overflowing, so that we had to put cots at the ends of the halls and every other available space."
By the early 1900s, it became apparent that the school building was becoming too small to meet demand. A new location and building were desired to give the school its much needed space. Property was purchased on North Tacoma Avenue where the cornerstone of a new building was laid on June 9, 1924. Construction of the school was completed in time for the start of the 1924-25 school year and the doors opened to students September 18, 1924.
As the student body grew and diversified over time, the role the church played in curriculum began to wane. In 1947, Headmistress Ruth Jenkins worked with the Bishop to reform the school's religious curriculum with the belief that chapel attendance was for all faiths and forms of worship. Learn more about the role of chapel at Annie Wright here
Beginning in the 1930s, boys were allowed to enroll in the kindergarten classes only. After the 1949 earthquake damaged nearby Lowell School, concerned parents who had daughters at Annie Wright besieged Headmistress Jenkins with urgent pleas to educate their young sons while the elementary school was under construction. An outbuilding was quickly erected on Annie Wright’s campus for the temporary schooling of boys in the early elementary grades. The temporary school for boys was called Charles Wright School. Parents looking for a permanent option for their sons later founded Charles Wright Academy in the Lakewood area (now University Place, Wa.) in 1957. The two schools remain independent of one another.
Annie Wright Seminary was renamed Annie Wright School in the early 1970s when the coeducational structure was extended through the upper elementary grades. Annie Wright’s middle school graduated its first group of boys in 1990. The name changed again slightly to Annie Wright Schools in 2011 to highlight the institution's distinct combination of both coed and single-gender programs.
Annie Wright launched a $10 million dollar remodel as it moved into the 21st century. Klarsch Hall was constructed in 2003, housing a new dining room and additional classrooms. Most of the original classrooms were remodeled and seismic improvements were made to the original structure. In 2012 a complete renovation of all dorm facilities was completed, fully bringing the 1924 building into the 21st century.
In 2011 Annie Wright’s first students earned the International Baccalaureate diploma. The Lower School adopted the Primary Years Programme in 2015, and the Middle School adopted the Middle Years Programme in 2017, making Annie Wright one of fewer than 20 schools across the country to offer the continuum of IB programs.
The historic From Strength to Strength campaign raised significant resources to bolster the school's endowment and enhance athletic facilities. The school opened a new regulation-sized all-weather turf field in 2017 and new gym and swimming pool in 2019.
In 2017 Annie Wright opened the Upper School for Boys, a new division based on the exceptional academic program of Annie Wright's Upper School for Girls but designed as a separate and unique experience. A new building to house the program opened in 2019.