Born in Medford, Massachusetts, Wright received his B.A. from Lombard College in 1912. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in 1915. He joined the department of social sciences at the University of Chicago in 1923 and remained there until 1956, when he became Professor of International Law in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia. Following his retirement at Virginia in 1961, he was a Visiting Professor in numerous universities in the United States and abroad. In 1927, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was one of the co-founders of Chicago's Committee On International Relations in 1928, the first graduate program in international relations established in the United States. In addition to his academic work, Wright was an adviser to Justice Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials, and often provided advice to the U.S. State Department.
Wright served as president of several scholarly bodies, including the American Association of University Professors (1944–46), the American Political Science Association (1948–49), the International Political Science Association (1950–1952), and the American Society of International Law (1955–56). He was a member of the editorial board of the American Association of International Law from 1923 until his death. He was also active in the U.S. United Nations Association. See Eleanor R. Finch, "Quincy Wright, 1890-1970" (obituary), The American Journal of International Law 65 (January 1971): 130-131.
During the 1920s, the horrors of World War I were foremost in the thoughts of many social scientists. Soon after his arrival at Chicago, Wright organized an ongoing interdisciplinary study of wars, which eventually resulted in over 40 dissertations and 10 books. Wright summarized this research in his magnum opus A Study of War (1942).
War, to be abolished, must be understood. To be understood, it must be studied. No one man worked with more sustained care, compassion, and level-headedness on the study of war, its causes, and its possible prevention than Quincy Wright. He did so for nearly half a century, not only as a defender of man's survival, but as a scientist. He valued accuracy, facts, and truth more than any more appealing or preferred conclusions; and in his great book, A Study of War, he gathered, together with his collaborators, a larger body of relevant facts, insights, and far-ranging questions about war than anyone else has done." (Deutsch 1970).
Other than A Study of War, Wright published a further 20 books and nearly 400 journal articles during his career. Several of his books became standard texts, including Mandates Under the League of Nations (1930) and The Study of International Relations (1955).
- The Control of American Foreign Relations. 1922. Macmillan.
- Mandates Under the League of Nations. 1930. University of Chicago Press.
- Research in International Law Since the War. 1930. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
- A Study of War. 1942. University of Chicago Press.
- The Study of International Relations. 1955. Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- The Strengthening of International Law. 1960. Academic of International Law.
- International Law and the United States. 1960. Asia Publishing House.
- The Role of International Law in the Elimination of War. 1961. Oceana.
- Deutsch, Karl W. (December 1970). "Quincy Wright's Contribution to the Study of War". Journal of Conflict Resolution 14 (4): 473–8. doi:10.1177/002200277001400410.
- "Dr. Quincy Wright, 79, Is Dead; Authority on International Law; Proponent of Understanding". New York Times. 18 October 1970.
- Falk, Richard A. (July 1972). "Quincy Wright: On Legal Tests of Aggressive War". American Journal of International Law 66: 560–571. JSTOR 2198728.
- Thompson, Kenneth (2002). "Quincy Wright". In Utter, Glenn H.; Lockhart, Charles. American Political Scientists: A Dictionary. ABC-CLIO. pp. 448–9. ISBN 978-0-313-31957-0.
- Whiting, Allen S. (December 1970). "In Memoriam: Quincy Wright, 1890–1970—A Symposium". Journal of Conflict Resolution 14 (4): 443–8. doi:10.1177/002200277001400403.