In the middle of the Civil War, an enslaved woman named Adeline Farrow gave birth to a baby girl, Mary Honor. In 1862, Adeline and her husband Lott could never have imagined that their baby daughter would grow up to be one of the most respected educators in Spartanburg, a community nestled in the heart of the segregated South. Mary was only three-years-old when the war ended, bringing freedom to the slaves. Throughout the conflict-filled years of Reconstruction, a period marked by racial violence in Spartanburg County, the Farrows focused on providing their children with the education that would allow them to build stable lives as free people. Young Mary attended a school run by Northerners who came to Spartanburg after the war to teach African- American children. In later years, Mary tried
to dispel any belief that her former teachers were stereotypical Yankee carpetbaggers who came south to make a profit and move on; she characterized her teachers as people whose “aim was to give the South something rather than to take away.”
Mary herself focused on giving to the South, particularly to the region’s African Americans. She studied at Asheville Normal School and at Scotia Seminary in North Carolina before finally earning her degree at Claflin College, a historically black college in Orangeburg. Returning to her hometown, Mary Farrow taught black children. Her first schoolhouse was a brush arbor in Inman. Later, her classrooms were located in mill villages and churches.
At 22, Mary Farrow married house painter William Wright. The couple settled near Mary’s parents in Southside, a vibrant African-American neighborhood in Spartanburg. Here, Mary gave birth to ten children, eight of whom survived infancy. She juggled child-rearing with teaching local children. In 1904, she found yet a new location for a classroom when she organized a school for black children in her living room. The school that Mary started eventually became the Carrier Street School, part of Spartanburg’s segregated public school system.
Mary Farrow Wright was tireless in her efforts to uplift the entire black community in Spartanburg. During World War I, she organized an American Red Cross First Aid School for African Americans. Wright founded a Home for Aged Negro Women and organized a Charity Christmas Tree program (an early version of Angel Trees) that provided holiday gifts for disadvantaged black children.
She was active in local African-American women’s organizations and in her church, Silver Hill United Methodist.
Wright was held in high esteem by blacks and whites alike. In fact, in 1937, at a time when it was rare for a black woman to receive newspaper coverage for any reason except for committing a crime, the Spartanburg Herald published a front- page tribute to her, headlined “Negro Teacher Has Won Respect of County.” In 1943, at the age of 81, Mary Farrow Wright finally retired from teaching to great acclaim from local residents of both races. After her death on August 25, 1946, Carrier Street School was renamed the Mary Wright Elementary School in honor of the woman who had given her life to educating local African-American children. The school still bears her name, a reminder of the legacy of a woman who was ahead of her time.