Katharine Wright
Katharine Wright (1898).jpg
Wright in 1898 as graduate of Oberlin College
Born(1874-08-19)August 19, 1874
DiedMarch 3, 1929(1929-03-03) (aged 54)
Alma materOberlin College (B A., 1898)
OccupationTeacher
Spouse(s)
Henry Joseph Haskell
(m. 1926⁠–⁠1929)

Katharine Wright Haskell (August 19, 1874 – March 3, 1929) was the younger sister of aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright, with whom she worked closely. She managed the bicycle shop, helped with flight operations, writing, communications and iterated ideas with her brothers, was a high school teacher and later became an international celebrity when the whole family team went to Europe. The French recognized her contributions, awarding the French Legion of Honor to all three Wright siblings. Wright also worked to support women's suffrage efforts in Ohio.

Early years

Katharine with brother Wilbur seated in the Wright Model A Flyer with other brother Orville standing nearby in 1909. This was Katharine's first time flying.
Katharine with brother Wilbur seated in the Wright Model A Flyer with other brother Orville standing nearby in 1909. This was Katharine's first time flying.

Wright was born on August 19, 1874, exactly three years after Orville Wright.[1] She was the youngest child of the five surviving children of Milton Wright and Susan Koerner. Susan died of tuberculosis in 1889 and as Wright was the only female child, management of the household fell to her at the early age of 15.[2][3] Wright pursued her education and career while managing the home she shared with her father and four older brothers. She was especially close to Wilbur and Orville and provided them with moral and material support as they pursued human flight.[4][3]

Wright attended Central High School in Dayton, Ohio and entered Oberlin College in 1893.[1] She graduated from Oberlin in 1898,[5] one of the few coed colleges in the United States at the time. Katharine excelled in most of her courses of study, with the exception of math. She met with a tutor three times a week and that tutor, Henry Joseph Haskell, would later become her husband. Katharine was the only child of Milton and Susan Wright to become college-educated.[4] Katharine studied to become a teacher, and after graduating from Oberlin she took a position teaching Latin[4] at Steele High School in Dayton, Ohio. To help with the household chores, she hired a maid, Carrie Kayler, who remained with the family for decades.[1]

When Wilbur and Orville began spending time away from home at Kitty Hawk and later in Europe and Washington, D.C., Katharine constantly wrote to them, keeping them abreast of family business progress, personal and hometown news. She sometimes scolded them when they didn't regularly send correspondence, and warned them of 'distractions' when in Europe.

In 1908, after nearly three years of trying, the brothers convinced the U.S. Signal Corps to allow them to test their Flyer for possible sale to the government at Fort Myer, Virginia. Orville was the pilot for the demonstrations. After a week of successful and record-breaking flights, disaster struck on September 17, 1908. A broken propeller sent the airplane out of control. The crash killed the passenger, Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, and seriously injured Orville, who suffered broken ribs and a broken leg. Katharine immediately went to his bedside at an Army Hospital in northern Virginia, and rarely left his room during Orville's seven-week recuperation. She took emergency leave from her teaching job and was never to return.[6][7]

Collaboration with brothers

Portrait of Katharine Wright around age 16 in 1890
Portrait of Katharine Wright around age 16 in 1890

During Orville's convalescence, Katharine wrote Wilbur saying “Brother has been suffering so much… and I am so dead tired when morning comes that I can not hold a pen.” Orville later said that without the aid of his sister, he would have died.

The Wright brothers funded their endeavors[8] with earnings from their bicycle shop, which Katharine helped manage when the brothers were spending summers at Kitty Hawk.[7] She packed supplies for the brothers,[9] managed official correspondence,[7] and helped Wilbur and Orville negotiate a one-year extension of their contract with the U.S. Signal Corps after Orville's 1908 crash. She also learned French in order to speak with European dignitaries for her brothers during their exhibition trips funded by Charles Ranlett Flint.[8]

Celebrity

Orville Wright (driving), Katharine Wright (center), and family friend Harriet Silliman in the "St. Louis" automobile purchased by Charles Webbert through the Wright Cycle Company in 1903
Orville Wright (driving), Katharine Wright (center), and family friend Harriet Silliman in the "St. Louis" automobile purchased by Charles Webbert through the Wright Cycle Company in 1903

Wilbur asked Katharine to go to France with Orville, and in 1909 they joined him in Pau.[10][11] She quickly dominated the social scene, being far more outgoing and charming than the notoriously shy brothers.[12] Katharine often represented her brothers in public, even speaking to dignitaries like Alfonso XIII, King of Spain, Georges Clémenceau, Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia.[10][13][14] French newspapers were fascinated by what they saw as the human side of the Wrights.[12] She was awarded, along with Wilbur and Orville, the Legion d'honneur, making her one of a very few women from the U.S. who have received it.[12] When they returned to Dayton, all three siblings were huge celebrities,[15][16] and Katharine took on business responsibilities, becoming an officer of the Wright Company in 1912 after Wilbur died. The company was sold in 1915 by Orville.[17]

Wright worked to organize for women's suffrage efforts in Ohio.[18] In support of an upcoming amendment vote, she organized a parade in Dayton on October 24, 1914, where both her father and brother, Orville marched.[18]

Life after Wright Company sale

In 1917, their father Milton died three years after he, Katharine, Orville, and Charles and Carrie Kayler Grumbach moved to Hawthorn Hill, a newly constructed mansion in the Dayton suburb of Oakwood. Orville became increasingly dependent on Katharine. She looked after his social schedule, correspondence, and business engagements along with his secretary, Mabel Beck, and ran the household as before.[19]

Wright was an active member of Oberlin College's board of trustees from 1924 until her death in 1929.[20][21] She also participated in the women's suffrage movement and was one of the main leaders in organizing a march through Dayton with 1,300 supporters, which included her father.[22]

Marriage, later life, and death

In the 1920s, Katharine renewed correspondence with an old schoolmate from her college days, associate editor and board member of the Kansas City Star Henry Joseph Haskell.[23] Haskell was a widower who lived in Kansas City, Missouri and they began a romance through their letters.[7] Katharine feared Orville's reaction to her relationship with Haskell; after several attempts, Henry broke the news to Orville. Orville was devastated and stopped speaking to his sister.[1]

Katharine wed Henry on November 20,[1] 1926 at Oberlin College.[23][24] Orville refused to attend the ceremony. Katharine and her husband moved to Kansas City, but she grieved over her broken relationship with Orville.[25]

Two years after her marriage, Katharine contracted pneumonia. When Orville found out, he still refused to contact her.[7] Their brother Lorin, who greatly approved of Katharine's marriage to Haskell, persuaded Orville to visit her, and he was at her bedside when she died.[1][7]

She died on March 3, 1929, age 54.[1][7]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dayton, Mailing Address: 16 South Williams Street; Us, OH 45402 Phone:225-7705 Contact. "Katharine Wright's Life Story - Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  2. ^ "Katharine Wright and Harriet Silliman washing dishes". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. 1896-01-01.
  3. ^ a b "The Wright Brothers | Katharine Wright". airandspace.si.edu. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  4. ^ a b c "Did You Know There Was a Wright Sister?". www.mentalfloss.com. 2016-08-22. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  5. ^ Wright, Wilbur; Wright, Orville (1900). "[Oberlin College, class of 1898]". www.loc.gov. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  6. ^ "The Pioneers". www.simonandschusterpublishing.com. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Forever and Always Wright". www2.oberlin.edu. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  8. ^ a b "Charles Flint Remembers the Wright Brothers". www.wright-brothers.org. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  9. ^ Wright Brothers (1902-09-01). "Arrival at camp". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection.
  10. ^ a b "Spectators at Pau". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. 1909-02-01.
  11. ^ "Orville and Katharine Wright walking in Pau". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. 1909-02-01.
  12. ^ a b c "Katharine Wright — aviation's unsung heroine | Christie's". www.christies.com. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  13. ^ "King Alfonso XIII with Katharine Wright". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. 1909-02-20.
  14. ^ "Royalty with Katharine and Orville Wright". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. 1909-09-09.
  15. ^ "Wright Brothers arrive for Dayton Homecoming Celebration". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. 1909-05-14.
  16. ^ "The Wright family on the reviewing stand". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. 1909-06-01.
  17. ^ Roach, Edward (2014). The Wright Company: From Invention to Industry. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780821420515.
  18. ^ a b McCarty, Mary (18 August 2020). "The empowering story of how Dayton was at the forefront of women's suffrage movement". Dayton.com. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  19. ^ "WRIGHT BROTHERS – BECK, Mabel (1890-1959) Archive of correspondence and typescripts including two autograph letters signed and ten typed letters signed (". www.christies.com. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  20. ^ "Katharine Wright's Life Story - Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Kate Bowne Leonard Papers, c. 1880-1931 | Oberlin College Archives". oberlinarchives.libraryhost.com. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  22. ^ "Katharine Wright". www.wright-brothers.org. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  23. ^ a b Times, Special to The New York (1926-11-21). "KATHERINE WRIGHT WED TO H.J. HASKELL, EDITOR; Sister of Airplane Inventors Bride of Executive of The Kansas City Star". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  24. ^ Miller, Henry (2013-09-17). "Henry J. Haskell". Browse the Wright Brothers Photograph Collection.
  25. ^ "Katharine Wright". www.wright-brothers.org. Retrieved 2019-12-31.

Further reading