• Katharine Wright: The Unsung Heroine of Aviation

Photo: wright-brothers.org

Have you ever heard or read about Katharine Wright? No? How about the Wright brothers? They sound familiar, right? Well, that’s okay because in this post, we’re here to set the record straight.

While her brothers Orville and Wilbur often take centre stage, Katharine Wright played a crucial role in aviation.

Moreover, her fight for women’s rights makes her a fascinating and truly inspirational figure. Want to know more? Keep reading!

Who was Katharine Wright?

Katharine Wright was born on 19 August 1874 in Dayton, Ohio (USA), and was the youngest of the surviving Wright siblings.

Unlike many women of her time, Katharine pursued higher education and graduated from Oberlin College in 1898. She later worked as a schoolteacher and became a highly respected figure in her community.

In addition to her career, Katharine managed the household she shared with her father and four older brothers after their mother passed away when she was only 15.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, Katharine’s salary as a language teacher was the main financial support for her famous brothers’ project. She even took part in the construction of the Flyer I.

Orville and Wilbur often acknowledged Katharine’s significant contributions, referring to her as “the third Wright brother” due to her vital support and presence.

After their successful first flight on 17 December 1903, Orville told the press that when people remembered the Wright brothers, they should also remember Katharine, as she was the inspiration and driving force behind their achievement.

Teacher, Entrepreneur, and Women’s Rights Activist

Katharine was not only a key figure in aviation but also a passionate advocate for women’s rights.

She actively participated in the women’s suffrage movement in Ohio, tirelessly campaigning for women’s right to vote and other social causes.

As a successful professional and suffrage advocate, Katharine inspired many women to pursue their dreams and fight for their rights. She demonstrated a strong commitment to improving society and ensuring equal opportunities for all.

The Wright Company’s Secret Weapon

After Wilbur’s death in 1912, Katharine became a director of the Wright Company. Her sharp business acumen and organisational skills were crucial to the company’s success.

Katharine managed the company’s operations, secured contracts, and promoted the Wright brothers’ innovations.

She also learned French and accompanied her brothers on their trips to Europe, showcasing the Wright Flyer and captivating audiences with her wit and intelligence.

Her charisma was so impactful that the French press soon began referring to her as “the human side of the Wrights”, contrasting her personality with the shy and reserved nature of Orville and Wilbur.

In recognition of her efforts, Katharine, along with her brothers, was awarded the French Legion of Honour, the country’s highest distinction.

Katharine Wright’s Personal Life and Marriage to Henry Haskell

Katharine’s personal life was marked by her deep bond with her family and her later marriage to Henry Haskell, a journalist for the Kansas City Star, one of the most influential newspapers of its time.

Though she continued to support her brothers after her marriage and remained involved in their aviation projects, her relationship with Orville Wright was never the same. He disapproved of her relationship with Haskell and even refused to attend their wedding, a decision that deeply saddened Katharine.

Two years later, when Katharine fell ill with pneumonia, Orville still refused to contact her. It was their brother Lorin who convinced him to visit. Orville was finally by her side when Katharine passed away on 3 March 1929, at the age of 54.

The Legacy of Katharine Wright

As you can see, Katharine Wright’s story is somewhat bittersweet.

A brilliant and charismatic woman, educated and socially conscious, who contributed to the historic first flight yet has been largely overlooked and forgotten.

Today, we remember her contributions to aviation and her efforts in the women’s suffrage movement. She is undoubtedly a figure worthy of remembrance.

If you want to be inspired by more barrier-breaking women, be sure to check out our post on women pilots who have made history.

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