Nancy fell in love with Arizona and its history as a young adult, even though she was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Minnesota, and being of an adventurous mind and spirit, she headed for the west coast with a friend in 1947.
On this trip, she stopped along the way to visit her uncle, William Ralph Bourdon (Uncle Bill), on his ranch in Holbrook. It was here she first heard about the intriguing Sharlot Hall, the first indigenous voice of Arizona literature, and a seed was planted in her that would eventually bear important fruit. She was entranced with ranch life and with the stories she heard about Sharlot Hall. But at this point her life took an interesting turn.
By a curious set of circumstances, she was hired to teach at the elementary school in Fort Apache on the White Mountain Apache Reservation with no teaching experience. It was here she met her first husband, Elliott Kirkpatrick, the local Reservation trader.
After marriage, she settled happily into life on the reservation as a wife and mother, serving in many capacities with children as a leader with Cub Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, 4-H, and Head Start, and with civic organizations such as the Whiteriver Federated Women’s Club and most importantly the Wallace H. Larson Memorial Library in Lakeside, Arizona. By 1967 she had done such remarkable work organizing the library as a volunteer that she received the Arizona State Library Association’s Rosensweig Award.
Widowed in 1970 with three almost-grown children, Nancy started out on the second phase of her life, as a librarian and historian. She moved to Tucson, attended the University of Arizona, and received her graduate degree from the brand new School of Library Science.
In 1972 she was hired as the Public Services Librarian at Yavapai College in Prescott, where she served for 15 years. Since her position at Yavapai College entitled her to a sabbatical, she chose Sharlot Hall as her advanced research subject, and worked in Sharlot Hall Museum’s archives cataloguing the extensive collection of Sharlot Hall’s papers.
At about the same time, author Margaret Maxwell was working on her definitive biography with the archival material that Nancy was processing. Consequently, both Maxwell’s , A Passion for Freedom: The Life of Sharlot Hall, and Nancy’s edited work, Sharlot Herself, Selected Writings of Sharlot Hall, were published around the same time. These two works comprise an exhaustive look at the life and work of the first woman to hold office in Arizona.
In addition to this work, Nancy has written numerous articles for the Prescott Courier’s “Days Past” series on a variety of historical subjects, and has been an active participant and member in a number of museums and libraries in the area. She has been an active volunteer for Sharlot Hall Museum since 1978.
For many years she was the designated expert on the fascinating Ms. Hall, delivering lectures to volunteer trainees at the Museum. She served on the Board of Trustees and has contributed to the Museum in numerous other ways, both financially and professionally. It is hard to imagine anyone more fitting to receive the coveted Sharlot Hall Award for contributing to the understanding and awareness of Arizona and its history, than Nancy Kirkpatrick Wright.
Left: Nancy Kirkpatrick Wright accepts the 2016 Sharlot Hall Award from the previous year's recipient, Winn Bundy (right) along with Fred Veil, Museum executive director.
Right: Nancy Kirkpatrick Wright during her acceptance presentation of the Sharlot Hall Award at the Western History Symposium dinner meeting.