Several weeks ago I wrote about Wilbur and Orville Wright and the first controlled, piloted, flight of a heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. I was inspired by the new book by David McCullough called The Wright Brothers.
The Wright brothers’ story stands alone in terms of drama and interesting characters. But I would be remiss if I did not also point out the stories of three of the female members of the Wright family as well.
In 1911, a few years after the Wright brothers made their famous flight their three nieces asked if they could take a ride. The youngest niece, Ivonette Wright (Miller) (1803-2007) wrote a first-person account of her ride called Girls Flew Too. It is excerpted from the book Wright Reminiscences and has been digitized along with other primary sources and a wealth of family photographs on Wright State University’s website.
Another female family member who was central to the lives of the two men and to their success was their younger sister, Katharine (1874-1929). The New York Times (May 31, 1912) said that “The only other person who entered the close fellowship of the brothers was their sister Katharine.” When Wilbur died of typhoid in May 1912, his sister Katharine was at his side caring for him. When Orville was seriously injured in a plane crash in Florida, his sister Katharine left her teaching job to nurse him back to health. Katharine supported her brothers during their early setbacks. She managed the bicycle shop when they were away testing prototypes. She provided the money needed to build a Wright Flyer to exhibit in France. The brothers asked her to be there when King Alfonso XIII of Spain honored them. She went to Europe with them and became their spokesperson, interpreter, social manager and the first “air woman”. For some time she held the world record for experience as a passenger, although Mrs. Hart O. Berg was the first woman to ascend.
The third member of the family that should be mentioned here is Susan Katherine Koerner Wright (1831-1889), the mother of Wilbur and Orville. Both parents encouraged their children to pursue intellectual interests, but Susan Wright had a knack for making mechanical things which she learned in her father’s carriage shop as a girl and passed along to her children. Orville once said “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”