Wright, Arthur F., 1913-1976

Alternative names
Birth 1913-12-03
Death 1976-08-11

Biographical notes:

Arthur Wright was born on December 3, 1913, in Portland, Oregon. He received an A.B. from Stanford University in 1935, a B.Litt. from the University of Oxford in 1937, and an A.M. from Harvard University in 1940. From 1940-1947 Wright lived in Japan and China, spending more than two years in an internment camp. After the war he completed his dissertation and received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1947. Wright taught Chinese history at Stanford from 1947-1959 and at Yale University from 1959 until his death on August 11, 1976.

Mary Clabaugh Wright was born on September 25, 1915, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She received a B.A. from Vassar College in 1938 and a M.A. in history from Radcliffe College in 1939. After her marriage in 1940, she lived in Japan and China, initially pursuing her studies toward the Ph.D., but spending more than two years in an internment camp during World War II. After the war she became the representative of the Hoover Library collecting materials on the Chinese revolution. In 1947 she returned to the United States to become China curator for the Hoover Library. She received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe in 1951. In 1959 Wright was named associate professor of history at Yale University and was made a full professor in 1964, a position she held until her death on June 18, 1970.

From the description of Arthur Frederick and Mary Clabaugh Wright papers, 1932-1977 (inclusive), 1951-1977 (bulk). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702166577


Arthur Frederick Wright was born in Portland, Oregon, on December 3, 1913, the son of Charles Frederick and Georgiana Gwynne Wright. After graduating from Stanford University in 1935, Wright earned at B. Litt from the University of Oxford in 1937. He returned to the United States and began his graduate studies in Chinese and Japanese at Harvard University. While at Harvard he met Mary Oliver Clabaugh, another student of Chinese history. They were married on July 6, 1940, in the same year that Wright received his A.M.

After their wedding, the Wrights left the United States to study in Japan and China. When Japan attacked the United States on December 7, 1941, the Wrights were trapped in Peking. They continued to live on their own until March 24, 1943, when they, along with Peking's other enemy aliens, were arrested by Japanese authorities and sent to a prison camp at Wei-hsien, Shantung, until the end of the war. During this period Arthur wright worked as a butcher, water-carrier, and fireman.

After the war, the Wrights remained in China for further study and travel. In 1947 Arthur Wright received his Ph.D. from Harvard and joined the faculty of Stanford University, where he remained through 1959. In 1959, Wright was appointed a full professor at Yale University and in 1961 he was named the first Charles Seymour professor of history, a position he held until his death.

Wright's original field of research was the history of Buddhism and the relationship between Buddhism and politics. These studies appeared in 1958 in Buddhism in Chinese History . He was also an editor and contributor to Studies in Chinese Thought, Confucianism in Action, The Confucian Persuasion, Confucian Personalities, and Confucianism and Chinese Civilization . In later work Wright studied the T'ang dynasty, particularly its capital city Chiang-an, which led to his interest in urbanization. He also produced a lengthy chapter on the Sui for the Cambridge History of China and had an ongoing interest in Chinese historiography.

Wright was particularly influential in two scholarly organizations, the Association for Asian Studies' Committee on Chinese Thought (CCT) and the Committee on Studies of Chinese Civilization (CSCC) of the American Council of Learned Societies. From 1950 on, Wright worked actively in the CCT, editing its journal, serving on its board, and from 1963-1965 working as its vice-president and president. From 1964-1973 he chaired the CSCC, working to organize conferences and develop sources of funding for scholarly endeavors in the field of pre-modern China.

After the death of his first wife, Wright married Marya Wankowicz Welch. They were living in Guilford, Connecticut, at the time of Wright's sudden death on August 11, 1976. From his first marriage Wright had two sons, Charles Duncan and Jonathan Arthur Wright.


Mary Clabaugh Wright was born on September 25, 1917, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the second child of Samuel Francis and Mary Bacon Clabaugh. She graduated from Vassar College in 1938 and began postgraduate studies in history at Radcliffe College, from where she received an A.M. in 1939. She became interested in the history of China, particularly the field of modern China. It was at this time that she met Arthur Wright, another graduate student, who was pursuing studies at Harvard in Chinese and Japanese.

Mary and Arthur Wright were married in Washington, D.C., on July 6, 1940, and then left the United States to carry on doctoral research in Japan and China. During 1940-1941, they lived in Kyoto and then moved to Peking in June 1941. After December 1941, the Wrights were stranded in China, and in March 1943, they were interned in a camp for enemy aliens at Wei-hsien, Shantung, where they remained until evacuated in October 1945.

The Wrights chose to remain in Peking to continue their studies. When the Hoover Library began a program to collect contemporary materials on the Chinese revolution, the Wrights became their China representatives. They travelled widely in China and met with Mao Tse-tung. Mary Wright had great success in finding materials and she became an expert on contemporary Chinese materials. The collection program became essentially hers, and when in 1947 the Wrights returned to the United States and Arthur Wright accepted an appointment in the history department at Stanford, Mary Wright became China curator at the Hoover Library.

Mary Wright received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe in 1951. Her dissertation, The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ungchih Restoration, 1862-1874, was published in 1957. The book was a model for the study of modern China and marked her as a major historian. Wright held faculty rank at the Hoover Library; though she lectured at Stanford she was not a member of the history faculty there.

In 1959 Arthur and Mary Wright were invited to join the history department at Yale University. Mary Wright came to Yale as an associate professor, the first tenured woman in the faculty of arts and sciences. Her scholarly interests now moved to the study of the processes of revolution. In 1965 she presided over a research conference on the Chinese revolution of 1911, which resulted in the publication of China in Revolution: The First Phase, 1900-1913, to which Wright contributed the introduction "The Rising Tide of Change." She helped found the society for Ch'ing Studies and its journal Ch'ing-shihwen-t'i . She also served on the Joint Committee on Contemporary China.

Mary Wright died in Guilford, Connecticut, on June 18, 1970. She was survived by her husband and two sons, Charles Duncan Wright (b. May 9, 1950) and Jonathan Arthur Wright (b. January 9, 1952).

From the guide to the Arthur Frederick and Mary Clabaugh Wright papers, 1928-1982, 1951-1977, (Manuscripts and Archives)


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  • China (as recorded)
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