Frances Fitzpatrick Wright, author of books for children and adolescents, was born Fannie Bell Fitzpatrick near Gallatin. She spent her childhood in Arizona, but when she was orphaned at fifteen, Fannie Bell returned to the home of her Fitzpatrick grandparents at Cages Bend near her birthplace. Neighbors fostered her literary interests through high school, observed her marriage to George Wright, and cheered the arrival of three small children.
In 1926 Wright published her first book with Cokesbury Press, and during the Great Depression the family depended on her writing as their primary source of income. From 1930 to 1950 Wright completed regular assignments for the Baptist Sunday School Board. In 1934 she published a Lucy Ellen story in American Girl Magazine and continued to contribute stories about Lucy Ellen and her sister Pat through 1963. The books for adolescents grew from this material. The success of these books led her to write the Sampey Place series, five books depicting both rural life of the early twentieth century and through embedded stories, some aspects of pioneer life. She also undertook children’s biographies of Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston. Wright ended her writing career at age seventy-five, though she continued to speak to school groups.
Wright’s combination of love for history and an intimate knowledge of rural Tennessee brought the past to life for generations of children. She drew upon the environment of practical farm life and the tensions provoked by life’s difficulties. As social history, Wright’s work reveals the conditions of both the depression and war years without being harsh. The Downing family, whose daughters narrate these books, never suffers true disaster, but a new dress is an event. The young narrators find their aspirations in daily life. When Lucy Ellen leaves college to work on the farm after her father becomes ill, it seems like the right decision for a nineteen-year-old girl during World War II.
Wright’s work reflects the moral mid-century attitude toward literature for young people. Her protagonists may be downhearted, but they never become violent or even seriously angry. Both teenagers and children accept the concept of a rational world to which each must somehow adjust personal desires and aspirations, yet Wright never denies the strength of youth’s longings.