Judy Wright: Ms. Claremont
by John Neiuber
We have just finished with March, the coming of spring. We are coming out of the long winter of COVID with the promise of renewal. We also just celebrated Women’s History Month that commemorates and encourages the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.
But it is not just the famous that have contributed to making this nation greater and better. I am reminded of my wife, Karen, and her fellow women educators, people like Claremont resident Sheri Nagel who helped to break, or rather shatter the glass ceiling in public education during a time when women made up 80%+ of the workforce but less than 5% of the school administrators. It is a very different world today.
Like so many things, change is a process not an event. It is the cumulative contributions of many that bring about change, that alter attitudes and gain acceptance. In Claremont, we find the contributions of women to be many and that should be worthy of our attention. Few small towns have had someone document those contributions such as Judy Wright (1939-2012) did in her book Claremont Women: 1887-1950. Wright’s book celebrates these women and how they influenced and shaped the city, but Judy Wright herself requires our attention for her accomplishments.
Judy Wright was born on March 25, 1939 in Provo, Utah to Della Jones and Roald Faye Campbell. At the time, her parents lived in Preston, Idaho where Mr. Campbell was the superintendent of schools. The family later moved to Salt Lake City. Judy attended the Stewart School which was associated with the University of Utah where her father was on the faculty. Judy attended Brigham Young University and graduated from the University of Utah.
The family later moved to Columbus, Ohio and then to Chicago, Illinois where her father was a professor. While in Chicago Judy met her husband, Colin Wright, and returned to school for her teaching credential. She was married in 1962 and taught second grade in Evanston, Illinois. The young family, with son Campbell, moved to Evanston where she became involved in numerous community activities. The family came to Claremont in 1972 when her husband became a professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College.
After moving to Claremont, Judy continued her community involvement immediately upon arrival. She became a member of the League of Women Voters. She served as president of the League from 1975 to 1977. She was active in the Sycamore School Parent Faculty Association and served as its president. Soon Judy’s activities expanded to the whole of the community when she was named to the Planning Commission in 1977. She later vied for a seat on the City Council where she served for 13 years, and as mayor for 3 years from 1986 to 1989. Judy also served as the president of the Southern Division of the California League of Cities. She had a passion for transportation issues and served on the founding board of both Metrolink and Foothill Transit. She led the charge to preserve the Claremont Depot and the establishment of Claremont as a stop on the Metrolink system. She was an advocate that helped with the planning for the Gold Line.
During the 1970s, historic preservation became a front and center issue in Claremont. The demolition of the Claremont Inn, the Claremont Library and the Woodford House at 7th and Yale prompted a group of citizens to work for the establishment of the Claremont Historic District in 1971. Upon her arrival, Wright became involved in those efforts and helped to found Claremont Heritage in 1976. Through its efforts, Claremont Heritage conducted the initial historic resources survey.
While involved in all of the above, Judy Wright formed the Claremont Historic Resources Center. The Center worked on the Historic Preservation Element of the Claremont General Plan, prepared a demolition ordinance, conducted a survey of the remaining citrus area of Claremont, developed self-guided walking tours, The Claremont Game and other preservation projects.
Wright also completed and published the first edition of her book, Claremont – A Pictorial History in 1980. Wright told the LA Times in 1981 that the book was a pointed response to an architect who was hired to survey the town and concluded that it had few preservation-worthy buildings. When the second edition of the book was released, the LA Times named it one of the best nonfiction books of 2000. In 2007 she published Claremont Women: 1887-1950. Judy liked to say that men built the seven Claremont Colleges but that women built the town. Wright also wrote the history column for the Claremont Courier.
Much of what Claremont is today is a direct result of women like Judy Wright. She along with colleagues like Mary Stoddard, Ginger Elliott and Arlene Andrew, worked to preserve and protect the historic resources of Claremont. Judy Wright, however, was not just about preserving the past, she was also forward facing and as Diann Ring, former Mayor pointed out in the Claremont Courier Obituary, “Judy also had her vision set for the future.” During her time in city government, “The council envisioned a future that included the Wilderness Park, Village West and a Depot brought back to life.”
A community icon herself, former mayor Karen Rosenthal said it best: “Many communities don’t have Judy Wrights and her friends and colleagues to poke and prod into the city’s pasts and its histories, to help fashion historical preservation ordinances, to be on the planning commissions and City Councils to make us sit up and take notice of what was and should still be, what is worth preserving and what is not. There were a few others before and there will be others after Judy, but she, in my mind, has been the most outspoken and courageous leader in preserving Claremont’s architecture and history.”
Judy Wright, a true icon of the community. Volunteer, activist, civic leader and author. Or as the LA Times simply called her: “Ms. Claremont.”