Katharine Wright: Sister of Pioneers

Born in 1874 in Ohio, Katharine Wright was the younger sister of aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright. She became the only sibling to graduate from college when she earned a teaching degree from Oberlin College.  She worked as a high school Latin teacher as Wilbur and Orville began experimenting with flying machines. When the brothers brought their machine to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina for flight tests, Katharine took over management of the family bicycle shop. Wilbur and Orville achieved the first successful flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft in December 1903.

In 1906, after the brothers patented their flying machine, Katharine began helping them as an executive secretary. As they traveled across the country and internationally, Katherine answered queries for scientific information, corresponded with newspapers and magazines trying to keep their stories straight, screened business offers, and approved photographs for publications. She officially left her teaching profession in 1908 after Orville suffered serious injuries from a flying accident. While nursing him back to health, she played a larger role in running the airplane business and assisted in the investigation of the accident.

Following Orville’s recovery, Katherine stayed on at the brothers’ request as a “social manager”, coordinating public appearances both in the United States and in Europe. She learned French during this time to better communicate with European dignitaries and became popular with journalists due to her outgoing and charismatic personality. While touring Europe in 1909, Wilbur took Katharine on her first flight. This made Katharine the third woman to fly in an airplane. She also flew in a hot air balloon while in France.

Upon the family’s return to Ohio, Katharine maintained business responsibilities for the Wright Company and became a company officer following Wilbur’s 1912 death. Orville sold the business in 1915. Katharine continued helping Wilbur with his social and business engagements. In 1924 she was named a member of Oberlin College’s Board of Trustees. Katharine became a staunch supporter of the suffragette movement in Ohio, helping organize a march of 1,300 supporters through Dayton. Katherine married Henry Haskell, an old friend from college, in 1926, and died from pneumonia three years later in 1929.