About Us

History of Annie Wright Schools

Annie Wright Schools were founded on the dreams of the Right Reverend John Adams Paddock and the hard work of Charles Barstow Wright. Paddock was appointed the first Missionary Bishop for the Episcopal Church in the Washington Territory in 1880. He moved to New Tacoma in 1881 with his wife Fannie Paddock and their five children.

2009 Documentary Film

A Short History

Annie Wright Schools was founded in 1884 by the Right Reverend John Adams Paddock (1825-1894) and Charles Barstow Wright (1822-1898). Paddock was appointed the first Missionary Bishop for the Episcopal Church in the Washington Territory in 1880. Wright was a financier and resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He became involved with the Northern Pacific Railroad and in 1872 traveled to Tacoma as part of a committee to determine the final destination for the railroad. He later became president of the Tacoma Land Company and took an active part in the founding of the city of Tacoma.

In 1881, Wright wrote to Bishop Paddock and asked him how he could further support Tacoma. Paddock answered that the town 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.”

He promised $50,000 for a school for girls in Tacoma if Bishop Paddock could raise $25,000. Through months of hard work and fundraising, Bishop Paddock succeeded and a Board of Trustees was formed. The Annie Wright Seminary was established and named in honor of Wright’s daughter, Annie.

The original location of the school was 611 Division Avenue, across the street from Wright Park in Tacoma. The cornerstone was laid on August 23, 1883 by Wright and his daughter, Annie, and the completed building opened for classes on September 3, 1884. The first class included 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 for its growing student body. Property was purchased at 827 North Tacoma Avenue where the cornerstone for 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.
Beginning in the 1930s, boys were allowed to enroll in the kindergarten classes only. After the 1949 earthquake damaged nearby Lowell School, parents who had daughters at Annie Wright asked Headmistress Jenkins to admit their 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 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 became Annie Wright School in 1971 when the co-educational structure was extended through the upper elementary grades. Annie Wright’s middle school graduated its first group of boys in 1990. 

As it moved into the 21st century, Annie Wright launched a $10 million dollar remodel. Constructed in 2003, Klarsch Hall housed 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 School became Annie Wright Schools, a small but significant name change designed to highlight the institution's distinct combination of both coed and single-gender programs, with day and boarding students. That same year, Annie Wright’s first Upper School 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. 

As the school headed into the latter half of the 2010’s, 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 began construction on a new gym and swimming pool. Also 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. In 2019, a new building to house the newly expanded Upper Schools opened, welcoming the third class of Upper School for Boys. That same year, the new gym and swimming pool were completed. 

In the summer of 2022, construction crews went to work demolishing the 1932 swimming pool and the two adjoining locker rooms. In the summer of 2023, construction crews turned their efforts into transforming these old derelict spaces into more functional and modern ones: a new Middle School wing that can finally house all three grades together and that seamlessly connects with the existing building, and three stunning new arts spaces: a dance studio, a textile lab, and a recording studio.

Annie Wright Schools continues to invest in its programs, its physical plant, and its people to ensure the students remain at the center of everything we do and that we continue to grow from

Strength to Strength.


@ Annie Wright
Founded in 1884, Annie Wright has a host of traditions, many of which are still celebrated today. Below is a short list of some of our most treasured traditions.

List of 6 items.

  • Maypole 1935

    May Day

    May Day, originally celebrated as Field Day in 1912, is Annie Wright’s most treasured tradition. From 1924, when the school moved to its current site, the May Queen, chosen for her beauty and grace, processed regally to her “throne,” in the cloisters (now the Bamford Commons), flanked by satin-clad pages and flower girls. After her coronation by a junior Maid of Honor, younger students treated the court to entertainment including various types of dancing and acrobatics and a traditional Maypole dance.

    Today we are proud to celebrate many of the rituals of this more than 100-year tradition. The May Court includes the May Royalty - with a representative of both the Upper School for Girls and the Upper School for Boys - and the Junior May Day Court Attendants. The seniors still process to their position of honor before the school community, and the Court Attendants still crown the May Royalty. Entertainment includes orchestra performances as well as the Maypole dance, performed by Grade 5. Students vote for the May Royalty who are caring, engaged and a strong part of the Upper Schools community.
  • Lessons and Carols 2023

    Lessons and Carols

    Lessons and Carols is a Christmas celebration that takes place one evening shortly before school breaks for the winter vacation. It is a warm, communal gathering that includes the singing of carols and the telling of the Christmas story through a series of readings. The event is followed by a reception in the Great Hall, where a beautifully decorated Christmas tree is the center piece.
  • Egg Drop 2023

    Egg Drop

    Every year around Easter, Lower School students participate in an Egg Drop. This tradition began at Annie Wright in 1958, the year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. Students are challenged to create packages to protect raw eggs. The packages are then dropped from the tower in the Bamford Commons. All students guess in advance how many eggs they think will survive the long drop. For many years a Grade 3 project, this has moved to Grade 2.
  • Milk Boats

    In this interdisciplinary project, Grade 7 students craft a sea-worthy vessel capable of carrying students to compete in a race at a nearby lake near the end of the school year. Teams of four or five are chosen at random, and materials are mostly recycled and reclaimed, including milk cartons for flotation. Boats are painted and themed, and songs, skits and a barbeque are part of race day. This tradition, established in 2002, was spearheaded by Kyle Price and other Middle School teachers as a signature Grade 7 event.
  • Spade

    Originating in 1888, the spade is Annie Wright’s oldest tradition. The subject of a frenzied search lasting weeks or months, it is traditionally used by the graduating class to plant a tree at the school. This description from nearly 85 years ago still holds true today:

    “One of the oldest and most cherished possessions of the Seminary is the spade. The spade itself is almost completely hidden under the numerous ribbons of green, white, purple, red and various other colors which are attached to the handle. It is used by each graduating class in the planting of its tree. On Class Day – at which time this ceremony takes place – it is presented to the incoming seniors but is immediately taken from them and hidden. This practice of hiding the spade originated with the class of 1902 when Millie Hubbard and Mary Kantz, two of its members, hid the spade for the class of 1903 to find. They not only hid the spade, but composed a set of rules which govern the hunting of it. Some of these rules are that the spade must be found previous to mid-nite of Hallowe’en and it must be hidden over a floor and under a roof.”

    -Elizabeth Emerson ‘31

    Once they have found the spade, the graduating class is entitled to Senior Privileges. Upon graduation, the seniors tie their own colored tie to the spade. If the class does not find the spade before Halloween, they do not receive their privileges and must tie a black tie around it. More recently, seniors who did not find the spade had to share privileges with the junior class.
  • Challenges

    The newest tradition in school history, the Challenges are a set of opportunities to connect USB seniors to the history and experience of the classes before them. Each year the seniors complete the set of challenges and create the set for next year's class. On the last day of school for the seniors, the challenges are read to the USB Grade 11 students. The rising seniors must successfully complete these challenges before they are allowed to petition the USB administration for their Senior Benefits. Failure to complete the Challenges before Halloween results in the seniors having to share benefits with the junior class.