Katharine Wright played an important role in the early United States aviation industry. The younger sister of Wilbur and Orville Wright, inventors of the first heavier-than-air powered aircraft, she was a key representative within the Wright Company. Born August 19, 1874 in Dayton, Ohio, Wright acted as the primary caregiver of her family from the age of 15 following the death of her mother, Susan Koerner Wright. Smart and decisive, she graduated from progressive Oberlin College in 1898 and began working as a high school teacher soon after.

Katharine Wright pictured with her brothers Wilbur and Orville. (Smithsonian Institution)

Katharine, Orville, and Wilbur were very close siblings within a family that also included two older brothers and their father, a bishop in the United Brethren Church. She carefully managed the household while Wilbur and Orville operated their bicycle shop and began their flight experiments. Following Orville’s injury in the 1908 test flight for the military at Fort Myer, Virginia, Katharine took a leave of absence from her teaching job to nurse him back to health. She would never return to teaching as she then began to work in collaboration with her brothers in their pursuit of aviation.  

Wright was of strong character, offering unwavering support and practical advice to her brothers. During their experiments and travels she handled communications, writing, and supported their test flight operations. In 1909, she accompanied her brothers to Europe to obtain funding and promote sales. During these exhibitions, Wright acted as the representative of the Wright Company. Soon, she and her brothers were seen as celebrities in Europe where she was awarded the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit. In 1912, after the passing of Wilbur, Katharine became an officer of the Wright Company until it was sold by Orville in 1915.

Katharine Wright on a bicycle outing. From left to right: Harriet Silliman, Cora Dell Woodford, Margaret Goodwin, Katharine Wright, and Mella Silliman. (Wright State University Libraries)

She also worked as an activist for the women's suffrage movement and by 1914, she was the president of the Dayton’s Young Women’s League. On Saturday, October 24, 1914, she joined around 1,300 marchers, which included her brother Orville and her father Milton, in the streets of downtown Dayton in demonstration of their support for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow women to vote. The vote for the amendment was just a few days away on November 3. The suffragists were ultimately unsuccessful, but Katharine and others continued to fight for voting rights.   

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