Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Anne St. Clair Wright (1910-1993)
MSA SC 3520-15137

Biography:

Anne St. Clair Wright, or St. Clair Wright, as she preferred to be called, championed the preservation movement in Annapolis, Maryland from the very first meeting of the Historic Annapolis Inc. (now the Historic Annapolis Foundation) until her death in 1993. Wright and Historic Annapolis saved numerous buildings, while educating the public on Annapolis’ history. Her tenacity and loyalty to preserving historic Annapolis made it the “living museum” and tourist destination it is today.

St. Clair Wright was born on June 7, 1910, in Newport News, Virginia, to Rear Admiral Arthur St. Clair Smith and Lena Salley Smith.1 When Wright was two years old, the family moved to Annapolis, Maryland, where Admiral Smith was stationed at the U.S. Naval Academy. Her family built a home at number 6 Southgate Avenue, and while they permanently owned the house, they often lived away due to Admiral Smith’s career.2 Wright and her family moved to the Philippines at Olongopo in 1914 and stayed there for three years. Admiral Smith was once again stationed at the Naval Academy, this time for the duration of World War I. After the war, the family moved to Bordeaux, France until they moved to Peking, or modern day Beijing, where they lived from 1922 to 1925.3 St. Clair became fluent in Chinese while exploring local neighborhoods with her brother, Bruce, during their stay there.4 After their time in the Far East, Admiral Smith was stationed in San Diego, California, where the family decided it was not suitable for a young lady to be raised. They sent her to boarding school in South Carolina, where she had her first real experience of living in America.5

Wright enrolled at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, then transferred to the Maryland Institute of Fine Arts in Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated with a degree in Fine Arts in 1932.6 Wright joined her family in Panama and married Navy Captain Joseph Martin Pickett Wright there. She worked as a professional artist and received much praise for the large, decorative, murals she painted in 1936 for the Willard hotel in Washington, D.C.7 Captain Wright’s Naval career would cause the couple to move often, but just like Wright’s parents, the couple permanently owned a house in Annapolis, at number 5 Southgate on Spa creek, near her parents’ home.8 The Wrights had three sons, Joseph Martin Pickett, Jr.; Arthur St. Clair; and Henry Tutwiler.9 In 1953, Wright’s husband retired from the Navy and the family settled permanently in their home at Annapolis.

At this time, Annapolis was far from the historical beautiful city it is now. Downtown consisted of “seedy bars and pool halls”, neon signs, shabby aluminum storefronts, and disintegrating 18th century buildings from lack of use and maintenance.10, 11 Wright herself described it as, “an old, dirty town. That was the general opinion.”12  Annapolis was so ugly; that a candidate running for mayor said the whole city should be demolished.13 Luckily, that candidate did not win and the town was not destroyed. But when Roger “Pip” Moyer became mayor in 1965, the town was still in shambles. As he recalled, “there were thirteen empty storefronts and two abandoned gas stations just on Main Street.”14

Wright saw the potential of Annapolis and took action to beautify it early on. In 1948, while her husband was still stationed at the Naval Academy, Wright organized a group of Navy wives to care for and preserve the public gardens in the city.15 Gardening was a lifelong passion of Wright, who recognized the aesthetic appeal of many different objects. She even maintained her own garden after her family moved to Admiral Heights in 1957.16

In 1952, Wright’s call for preservation would begin with a meeting of private citizens, concerned over the presence of developers with intentions of encasing the City Dock with modern high-rise buildings.17 This group turned into Historic Annapolis, Inc., a nonprofit educational group with the purpose of preserving the City’s past and helping it adapt and function as a modern living city.18 Historic Annapolis, Inc. was the third non-profit preservation group created in the United States, following the Preservation Society of Newport and the Preservation Society of Charleston.19

Historic Annapolis differed from these original preservation groups in notable ways, largely due to Wright’s innovative, artistic thinking. First, the organization’s goal is to preserve the entire city, not just specific historical buildings.20 They focus on the entire streetscape, so even small buildings are considered important.21 Most importantly, the group employs a now widely accepted architectural concept of “context.”22 Pringle Symonds, former president of the Historic Annapolis and coworker of Wright's, described her strategy, “As a professional artist, Mrs. Wright valued good design of any period, so her vision of Annapolis included three centuries of fine architecture complementing each other. In her view, new buildings should be designed to harmonize with the proportions of the old. Part of Historic Annapolis’ mission was to actively encourage 20th century architects to understand the setting in which they were to work.”23 This allowed Annapolis to thrive as an organic city verses a static, colonial city like Williamsburg, Virginia. With constant use as Maryland’s capital and the home of the Naval Academy, Annapolis has too much modern importance to simply be a tourist attraction and this set Annapolis apart from other historic cities. In line with other preservation groups, however, Historic Annapolis, required that preservation decisions be on the basis of firm scholarship.24

Once a founding member of Historic Annapolis, Wright dedicated herself to the preservation of Annapolis by educating herself in the every subject applicable to reviving a community. She studied fund raising, legal protection, economic development, historic preservation techniques, and city planning.25 Along with studying the practical elements of city preservation, she also became an expert on architectural and historical Annapolis.26 Her education was not unnoticed. Mark Leone, professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland said she “never appeared to be an amateur” and though she was self taught in the study of historic preservation, “the quality of her mind was significant.”27The Baltimore Sun described the practical effect of this knowledge, “You do not want to argue with St. Clair Wright unless you have done your homework, because she knows all the Annapolis answers.”28

Wright saw the importance of involving government officials in historic preservation when other groups did not. She recognized that government could assist preservation by protecting historic districts through legislation and implementing height and bulk restrictions in the city.29 With this knowledge, she brought together groups embodying political life, aesthetic influences, business needs, and the U.S. Naval Academy, to tackle the goal of historic preservation in Annapolis.30 That self-taught knowledge, along with her charm and radiance, drew in and sustained these groups of important, talented people necessary to the preservation and beautification of Annapolis.31 Wright’s strategies were limitless, as her open-mindedness never restricted the people whom she was willing to work with and her “outside the box” thinking constantly expanded the approaches she would go about preserving a building.32 One of her most-used strategies employed her talents as a professional artist. Wright would take a paper cutout of a proposed building, scale it to a photographic of the area, and stick it to the place it was designated to be built.33 People could then easily see how the proposed building would be overwhelming to the streetscape and existing buildings.34

Wright’s strategies and intellect brought success to Historic Annapolis and their mission of preserving historic Annapolis. The first project they undertook was the movement and restoration of the Carroll Barrister House. Wright, with Historic Annapolis, was able to raise $20,000 to have the house moved from Main Street to King George Street on the campus of St. John’s College.35 After being moved to a more desirable and permanent location, the former home of Charles Carroll, the Barrister, an active patriot in the American Revolution, was restored to its former glory. From this success, Historic Annapolis went on to restore other buildings from the 18th and 19th century to their earlier appearance and beauty.

In 1962, the group had a dispute with the U.S. Naval Academy over their planned expansion over three residential blocks in Annapolis. Historic Annapolis utilized all of their strategies to combat the proposal. “We made up booklets showing why this neighborhood was important architecturally and historically, and set them to every preservation group in the country that had a congressman on the Joint Armed Services Committee. And we asked all these groups to write President Kennedy. Later we learned his desk was piled high with letters saying ‘Don’t destroy Annapolis.’” Wright told National Geographic.36 Historic Annapolis proved their influence and power through their own efforts and their ability to motivate and involve other interested of affected organizations. Their effort was awarded, as the Naval Academy backed down from the proposed expansion.37

They did not win every battle, however. Two years later, a Hilton Hotel, now the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel, was erected despite protests from Wright and Historic Annapolis.38 Their efforts were not completely unrewarded however, they did get two stories taken off the top of the hotel.39 In 1965, the group earned a huge victory, when U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Stuart Udall, named Annapolis a National Historic District Landmark.40 This district contains 1500 significant structures with seventeen different, yet harmonious, architectural styles, dating from 1675 to 1930.41 Historic Annapolis made use of this success by debuting its Historic Building Marker program that same year. Wright used her professional artistic talents to create the marker which features key symbols of Annapolis history and architecture.42

The Historic Building Marker program was not the only undertaking of Historic Annapolis in 1965. Historic Annapolis also raised $250,000 to purchase the William Paca House that year in what was to be one of the most memorable of St. Clair Wright’s undertakings. William Paca was one of four Marylanders to sign the Declaration of Independence and owned a beautiful house with an extensive garden on Prince George’s Street.43 The house was converted into the Carvel Hall Hotel, which was slated to be demolished for the building of a Best Western Motel.44 Wright intervened, raising the money to buy the house and undertaking an eight-year restoration project. With financial aid from the state and federal governments, the house and garden were restored and opened to the public in 1973.45 The Paca House is now a frequent site for tourists and arguably the most beautiful house in Annapolis. Always the volunteer and true believer of her cause, Wright used the prize money she received from earning the Louise DuPont Crowninsheld Award to pay for the construction of the Chinese Chippendale Bridges in the Paca Garden.46

In 1968, three years after buying the Paca House property, Historic Annapolis had another triumph with the government, this time from voters. By a two-to-one margin, Annapolitans voted to adopt an enforceable historic-district ordinance overseen by the Historic District Commission.47, 48 Historic Annapolis took on another project in 1968, with their fight for the Market House. The City Council voted to demolish the historic building, which served Annapolitans as a social and commercial hub for over three centuries.49 Historic Annapolis worked to sway citizens as they distributed pro-market literature, collected more than 3,000 signatures on petitions, and ran pro-market ads in The Evening Capital.50 One of the keys to halting the destruction of Market House was the timing of this decision. It was election time, and Historic Annapolis was very successful in convincing citizens to favor saving the Market House and publicizing that voter opinion. Aldermen Arthur Ellington and Charles Bernstein, key advocates for destroying the building, retired and because of public pressure and “persuasive lobbying by citizens such as Mrs. Wright,” the majority of candidates ran on a pro-market platform.51 After the election, the council passed a motion to stop the razing of the Market House and soon after they allocated $140,000 for its renovation. It reopened to the public in 1972.52  Aside from supplying motivation for the renovation, Historic Annapolis also provided architectural planning and a large amount of money to supplement the government funding for restoration.53

These are just some of the buildings Historic Annapolis was able to save and restore under Wright. By using its budget to restore then resell houses, Historic Annapolis had saved around thirty historically and architecturally significant structures in Annapolis and been instrumental in rescuing 300 others, just 36 years after its creation.54 Some of these successes, aside from the Paca and Carroll the house, include the Shiplap House and the “Save the Waterfront” campaign.55 Because of this work, so robustly encouraged by Wright, Maryland is the only state where the homes of every signer of the Declaration of Independence still exist and are preserved.56

St. Clair Wright also used the history and architecture of Annapolis buildings to promote higher education. In 1982, Wright created that Archaeology in Annapolis program.57 With funding from the city of Annapolis and later from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Wright brought graduate students from the University of Maryland to Annapolis to investigate the architecture of several properties.58 Wright’s concept was that by collecting a large pool of information, experts could deduce the social history of Annapolis from the time period of the building they were studying. This concept was revolutionary and a primary way to study the lower classes, because they did not typically leave records in the past.59 Wright’s concept and Archaeology for Annapolis was a major advancement in the historic archaeology field. Dr. Mark Leone, professor and supervisor of the University of Maryland researchers, published a book on his findings and theories from the excavations in Annapolis.60

Wright’s years of work as “Madame Preservation” earned her many titles, but one was constant: volunteer. Wright served as secretary, vice president, four terms as president, chair and chair emeritus of the Board, and chair of the William Paca Garden Restoration Committee for Historic Annapolis Inc., later named the Historic Annapolis Foundation.61, 62 Wright also held volunteer positions as advisor for Maryland in the National Trust for Historic Preservation, commissioner for the Maryland Commission on the Capital City, director for the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, director of the Southern Garden History Society, member of the Committee of Twenty to establish goals and programs for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, chairman of the Board for Preservation Action, member of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Advisory Committee of the U.S. National Park Service, director of the Nature Conservancy, trustee for the Maryland Environmental Trust, member at large of the Garden Club of America, member of the Governor's Maryland Scenic Beauty Commission, and member of a national citizens lobby for preservation.63, 64 Aside from the many positions she held, Wright also lectured often for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and authored several publications including, The Once and Future Garden of William Paca (1969), Historic Annapolis Celebrates the American Bicentennial (1971), The Incredible Change (1970), For the Next 200 Years: Annapolis Prospectus (1973), and others.65, 66

Wright’s lifelong commitment to preserving Annapolis did not go unrecognized; she was honored through major awards and programs still exist in her memory. Wright was officially awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Public Service from the University of Maryland in 1985, The Phoenix award for outstanding achievement in preservation and beautification from the Society of American Travel Writers in 1985, the Garden Club of America Historic Preservation Medal in 1983, a Citation from the Maryland House of Delegates for Outstanding Service in the Field of Preservation in 1979, an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Towson State University in 1975, the Calvert Award from the Maryland Historical Trust in 1975, the "Woman of the Year" Award from Maryland Colonial Society in 1975, Historic Annapolis, Inc. Athenian Award in 1972, the Federated Garden Clubs of America Award in 1970, the Louise duPont Crowninshield Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1968, the American Institute of Architects, Chesapeake Bay Chapter, Award for Distinguished Work in Historic Preservation in 1968, and a Certificate of Distinguished Citizenship in the state of Maryland in 1965.67 Beginning in 1997, there has been a graduate scholarship in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland named in honor of St. Clair Wright. The scholarship is given to a "student who demonstrates the qualities of activism and dedication in the field of preservation personified by Mrs. Wright."68 The Historic Annapolis Foundation’s 50th anniversary dinner honored St. Clair Wright and there is an annual “St. Clair Wright Historic Preservation Lecture” held in Annapolis.69, 70 Wright is depicted in a group of portraits of important Marylanders in the City Council Chamber of Annapolis.71 One of the best-known and visible namesake’s of Wright is the St. Clair Wright History Center, which opened on April 28, 2006.72 The naming of this building was controversial, as the Historic Annapolis Foundation initially pledged to name the building after her, then reneged their promise in hopes of naming the building something more “eye-catching” like “History Quest”. After many angry Annapolitans wrote editorials and contacted the Foundation in protest, public pressure caused the Historic Annapolis Foundation to reconsider and name the building after St. Clair Wright.73 With such a large impact on the restoration of Annapolis and the education and preservation of its history, St. Clair Wright has been honored in many different ways.

St. Clair Wright died of cancer at her home in Admiral Heights on September 18, 1993.74, 75 As a testament to her lifelong commitment to preservation, she wrote a letter to the editor in favor of banning neon signs in Annapolis in the very newspaper issue that reported her death.76 As evidence of her impact on Annapolis, over 400 people attended her memorial service and Mayor Hopkins ordered Annapolis city flags to be flown at half-mass in honor of her saying, “She really is the savior of our history…Many people fought against her and criticized her, but she preserved and we owe her what we have today. Thank God.”77

St. Clair Wright turned Annapolis from a visually appalling town to a beautiful, historic, living city. After dedicating over 36 years of her life to preserving Annapolis, Navy Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Johnny Poole described her devotion to her hometown; “She gave life service in this community, giving unselfishly of herself. She taught us to think for ourselves, to educate ourselves about our past so we could have a present.”78
 

Endnotes:

1. “Wright, Anne S.” Social Security Death Index. http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/ Return to text.
2. “Biography.” Anne St. Clair Wright. http://www.stclairwright.com/StClairWright/Biography/tabid/545/Default.aspx Return to text.
3. Ibid. Return to text.
4. Ibid. Return to text.
5. Ibid. Return to text.
6. Ibid. Return to text.
7. Ginger Doyel, “Annapolis from Past to Present: St. Clair Wright had interesting history of her own.” The Capital, April 21, 2004. Pg. B1. Return to text.
8. “Biography.” Anne St. Clair Wright. Return to text.
9. Robert Harry McIntire. Annapolis Maryland Families. (Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc.), 653 and 789; http://www.stclairwright.com/. Return to text.
10. Carrie Kiewitt, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
11. Pringle Symonds, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
12. Pam Cytrynbaum, “Preservationists Hope to Polish City's 'Tarnished Vistas'.” The Washington Post, July 21, 1988. Return to text.
13. Ibid. Return to text.
14. “Foundation Celebrates: A Tribute to Anne St. Claire Wright.” Historic Annapolis Foundation Journal. Return to text.
15. “Biography.” Return to text.
16. Ibid. Return to text.
17. Kiewitt, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form”. Return to text.
18. St. Clair Wright, Preface. Annapolis: the spirit of the Chesapeake Bay. (Annapolis, Md.: Portfolio Press, Ltd., 1988). Return to text.
19. Jean Russo, “St. Clair Wright.” PowerPoint presentation. Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD. Return to text.
20. “Historic Annapolis.” Anne St. Clair Wright. http://www.stclairwright.com/StClairWright/ Return to text.
21. Ibid. Return to text.
22. David Fogle, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form”. Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
23. Symonds, “Nomination Form.” Return to text.
24. Russo, “St. Clair Wright.” Return to text.
25. Symonds, “Nomination Form.” Return to text.
26. Wright, "Preface." Return to text.
27. Doyel, “St. Clair Wright had interesting history of her own.”  Return to text.
28. “Foundation Celebrates: A Tribute to Anne St. Claire Wright.” Historic Annapolis Foundation Journal. Return to text.
29. Symonds, “Nomination Form.” Return to text.
30. Ibid. Return to text.
31. Doyel, “Wright had interesting history of her own.” Return to text.
32. Symonds, “Nomination Form.” Return to text.
33. Mary Felter, “Preservationist St. Clair Wright dies.” The Capital, September 19, 1993. Return to text.
34. Ibid. Return to text.
35. “Carroll Barrister House.” Council of Independent Colleges: Historic campus Architecture Project. http://hcap.artstor.org/cgi-bin/library?a=d&d=p1636 Return to text.
36. Larry Kohl, “Annapolis: Camelot on the bay.” National Geographic, August 1988. Return to text.
37. Ibid. Return to text.
38. Mary Felter, “Preservationist St. Clair Wright dies.” The Capital, September 19, 1993. Return to text.
39. Ibid. Return to text.
40. Ibid. Return to text.
41. Wright, "Preface." Return to text.
42. Ginger Doyel, “Annapolis From Past To Present: How historic buildings get those markers.” The Capital, October 13, 2004. Return to text.
43. “William Paca House.” Anne St. Clair Wright. http://www.stclairwright.com/StClairWright/ Return to text.
44. Ibid. Return to text.
45. “William Paca House.” The Captial. http://www.hometownannapolis.com/tour_paca.html Return to text.
46. Ibid. Return to text.
47. Wright, "Preface." Return to text.
48. Kohl, “Annapolis: Camelot on the bay.” Return to text.
49. Ginger Doyel, “Annapolis, past to present: How Market House was saved.” The Capital, September 1, 2004. Return to text.
50. Ibid. Return to text.
51. Ibid. Return to text.
52. Ibid. Return to text.
53. Russo, “St. Clair Wright.” Return to text.
54. Carolyn Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History. (Forestville, MD: Women of Achievement in Maryland History Incorporated, 2002), 156-157. Return to text.
55. Kiewitt, “Nomination Form.” Return to text.
56. Sarah Wright Rivera, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
57. “Archaeology for Annapolis.” Anne St. Clair Wright. http://www.stclairwright.com/StClairWright/ Return to text.
58. Ibid. Return to text.
59. Ibid. Return to text.
60. Ibid. Return to text.
61. Kiewitt, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form”. Return to text.
62. Donna Hole, Preservation Planning in Annapolis, A Community Task, Community Commitment. Return to text.
63. “Anne St. Clair Wright,” Maryland Commission for Women, Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame. 12 March 2009.  http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/educ/exhibits/womenshall/html/wright.html Return to text.
64. Felter, “Preservationist St. Clair Wright dies.” Return to text.
65. Ibid. Return to text.
66. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History. Return to text.
67.  “Anne St. Clair Wright,” Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame. Return to text.
68. Jaques Frances, “Scholarship recognizes preservationist's efforts,” The Capital, May 27, 1997. Return to text.
69. “HAF anniversary dinner June 22,” The Capital, May 13, 2002. Return to text.
70. Doyel,  “Annapolis from Past to Present: St. Clair Wright had interesting history of her own.” Return to text.
71. Nicole Young, “Molding collapse damages City Council chambers,” The Capital, July 18, 2006. Return to text.
72. “Historic Annapolis,” Anne St. Clair Wright. http://www.stclairwright.com/StClairWright/ Return to text.
73. Pete Holley, “Museum offers sneak preview,” The Capital, March 24, 2006. Return to text.
74. Felter, “Preservationist St. Clair Wright dies.” Return to text.
75. “Wright, Anne S,” Social Security Death Index. http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/ Return to text.
76. Felter, “Preservationist St. Clair Wright dies.” Return to text.
77. Mary Felter, “400 pay last respects to St. Claire Wright,” The Capital, September 22, 1993. Return to text.
78. Ibid. Return to text.
 
 

Biography written by 2009 summer intern Stephanie Berger.
 
 
 

Return to Anne St. Clair Wright's Introductory Page
 
 
 
 


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