When Katharine was 15, her mother Susan died of tuberculosis, leaving Katharine to care for her entire family on her own. Katharine was the only surviving daughter and the responsibility for caring for the household fell to her. Despite the amount of work she had to do at home, Katharine persisted in her studies at Central High School and attended Oberlin College. She graduated in 1898 as one of the few co-ed students in the US at the time and the only child of Susan and Milton to have a college education. She took a position teaching Latin at Steele High School and hired a maid to help with household chores.
When Wilbur and Orville spent time away from home, Katharine wrote to them keeping them up to date on family news, local events, and basically made them feel as if they never left. Many times she would accompany them on their trips, and even cared for Orville for 17 weeks after he broke a leg and ribs from a broken propeller hit. To care for him, she took leave from her teaching job and never returned.
Instead, Katharine helped manage the bicycle shop, allowing her brothers to travel more freely and fund their expeditions. Katharine was very important in her brothers’ success, even corresponding for them. She even learned French so that she could speak to European dignitaries.
Since she could speak French, she joined her brothers in France and was soon the popular Wright sibling. She was far more outgoing than her brothers, and it showed. She became their representative, and charmed many dignitaries. Katharine’s charm helped give the Wrights a softer appearance to the public. She was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, an honor awarded to very few American women. The three Wright siblings were celebrities when they returned to Dayton. Katharine was also involved in women’s suffrage events in Ohio, organizing a parade in Dayton in 1914, where both Milton and Orville marched.
Although her brothers were confirmed bachelors, Katharine married a former schoolmate from college, Henry Joseph Haskell. Orville did not approve of the relationship and refused to speak to Katharine after she married Haskell. They were very close and Katharine was devastated by the broken relationship with her brother. Orville didn’t speak to her for two years, until their brother Lorin convinced him to visit her after she contracted pneumonia. Orville was at Katharine’s bedside when she died in 1929, at age 54.
Katharine is buried along with Orville and Wilbur, at Woodland Cemetery.
Super job on Katharine! I think she is just as remarkable, perhaps even more so at times, than her brothers.