The American Girl

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The World Magazine, April 11, 1909 (New York, NY)

The American Girl Whom
All Europe Is Watching

Katherine Wright, the “Silent Partner” of Orville and Wilbur Wright, has aided in the aerial triumphs of the intrepid brothers, and who is soon to return to America to assist by her counsel in new and more daring enterprises.

he masters of the aeroplane, those two clever and intrepid Americans who have moved about Europe under the spotlight of an extraordinary publicity, have had a silent partner. She is Katherine Wright, sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

She has been a silent partner, but recently she has been attracting a novel amount of attention on her own account.

“And did you really ride in it yourself?"' asked King Alfonso, when he, in common with so many other European notables, met her at one of the testing grounds.

She had. If she has not ridden oftener it is not because she has not been ready and willing. She is as fearless if not as ingenious as her brothers. Europe has been watching and praising her as few American women have been watched and praised.

Few know what she has done. Few know how hard she has worked to make her brothers' machine a working accomplishment. But the Wright brothers realize it all and pay her due tribute— hats off, then, to Miss Katherine Wright, who has ever been the mainstay of her brothers in their many efforts to conquer the air.

Who was it that gave them new hope when they began to think the problem impossible? Who was it that followed the intrepid brothers everywhere? Who was it that nursed Orville Wright back to strength and health when the physicians had practically given him up after that fatal accident last September, when Lieut. Selfridge. of the United States Army Signal Corps Service lost his life and Orville Wright all but lost his?

Sister Katherine Wright—that’s the answer.

When the news came from Fort Myer that the army officer had been killed and Orville Wright dangerously injured, Miss Wright gave up her position as teacher in the Dayton (O.) High School and started at once for Washington.

“It is dubious,” said the army surgeon in attendance upon Orville Wright, "whether the aeroplane inventor would have survived his injuries had it not been for the presence and loving care of his sister.”

Miss Wright is a typical American girl—self-reliant but unassuming. She would far rather talk about the successes that her brothers have achieved than say a word about herself. She knows all the difficulties which they have had to encounter—these make up her life story.

She has never made a full flight herself—the brothers refuse to take her on a real trip, but she knows everything about the working of their machines, and she has her own theories about the wrecking of the aeroplane which killed Lieut. Selfridge and nearly killed her brother.

"We have reached the conclusion,” she will tell you, "that one of the wires supporting the rudder broke loose and became entangled in the propeller. I don't see that anything else could have happened."

Though Miss Wright has never taken a real flight in any of her brothers' aeroplanes, she has been up in a balloon. With her two brothers at Pau she took a trip up into the air and came down without accident. It is fairly safe to assume that she will be the first woman to make a flight in an aeroplane.

Miss Wright began to take an interest in the navigation of the air when her talented brothers were making- their first experiments in their bicycle repair shop in Dayton. O. Sometimes when the boys were sick or tired out she used to read to them; books on aeronautics and aviation were their favorites and she learned with them as she read.

Orville Wright fell ill some years ago, and it wan his sister's duty to attend him. Wilbur Wright was at the bedside most of the time, too—as much of the time as he could spare from the bicycle shop.

“When I get well,” said Orville, “why don't we try to fly? Somebody is going to invent a machine that will fly; why shouldn't it be our machine?'”

“Yes, why not” echoed Miss Wright, and then and there the Wright Brothers made up their minds to essay the air with an aeroplane.

What they have done is history.

The young amateurs started with a clumsy apparatus that could do but little. Then they began to get the real ideas for a machine heavier than air—not a balloon—which could really fly. Their first models were tied to a rope fastened to a pole, and the machines flew round and round as birds might fly. Then they tried to fly themselves.

The young amateurs didn't fly at their first effort nor at their second or their third, and there were accidents regularly. And it was the sister who attended them when they were laid up in bed with their hurts.

"I think I know," Miss Wright has said to her friends, "every mistake and every success that the boys have made. If there are some little details which they cannot recall-that is my business. I know every one who has called at the shop in Dayton. One of my duties is to guard my brothers' interests."

Like her two brothers. Miss Wright is a persistent worker. From the moment she arrived at the hospital at Fort Meyer, the United States Army post at Washington, there was a different tone to the condition of Orville Wright. She got "on the job" at once, and soon the injured aeroplanist began to mend.

In spite of all the inconveniences, Miss Wright stayed at the army hospital day and night, and nothing was done without her sanction.

"Orville has often taken care of me when I was sick," said she. 'Why shouldn't I take care of him? I am getting my chance to return what he did for me—why not? But Wilbur ought to be here. He is the ideal nurse."

Just then Wilbur Wright was showing the French Government how flights  should be made—at LeMans—and the news of what he was doing was told daily to Orville Wright, which made much for his ultimate recovery, badly injured as he was.

Orville Wright comes back to Fort Myer in May to make more flights in official trials for the United States Government. Miss Wright will be there, with him. She doesn't want him to be hurt, and she is going to see that he isn't, if she can help it.

"You see," she will tell you, "when the boys first started with their experiments we didn't think they really meant to make flights. For a long time, when we found out what they actually meant to do, we were very much worried. But we are used to it now. I have every confidence in the success of my brothers' machine, and I know that in the end they will perfect it."

Miss Wright didn't say so, but everybody interested in the flying machine knows that she has been the real one to keep up her brothers in spite of so many setbacks. Her devotion to Orville and Wilbur has made her warm friends wherever she has gone.

Miss Wright is petite, dark and good-looking. She looks the sister of her brothers. Her manner is most attractive. Like most other American girls, the aviators' sister has very decided views of her own. Politics Interests her exceedingly.

When Mr. Taft was running for the Presidency Miss Wright made every effort to get her injured brother back to Dayton to vote for the man from Cincinnati.

The Wright family has always lived in Dayton, home of their ancestors. One of them was the first white woman to settle where Dayton now stands. The father of the family was formerly a bishop in the United Brethren Church. He is still living and watches with keen interest the work in the world which his sons are doing; even as much so as his daughter, Miss Katherine. Another brother, who lives in Dayton too, completes the family.

Altogether it is a remarkable family, and Miss Katherine is not by any means the least remarkable member.

Katharine's portrait, published in World Magazine in 1909. Note that the author consistently mispelled Katharine's name using the more common "Katherine."

Katharine escorts Orville to Europe in 1909. He is still recovering from his accident at Fort Myer.

Katharine talks to King Alphonso of Spain while watching Wilbur fly in Pau, France. The royalty and aristocracy of Europe was both surprised and delighted by Katharine's straightforward, outgoing personality.

While in Europe, Katharine was treated to a balloon ride by the Marquis Edgard de Kergariou. Later, the Marquis would learn to fly an airplane.

Katharine talks to an official in Italy while the Flyer is readied for launch. Oftentimes Katharine was called upon to answer technical questions about the Flyer and was reputed to be as well-informed as her brothers.

This romantic caricature of Katharine piloting the Flyer also appeared in the World Magazine article. This stylized vision of American femininity was often called a "Gibson Girl" after it's originator Charles Dana Gibson. The sophisticated style and youthful beauty of the Gibson Girl became extremely popular in the late 1890s and Gibson had many imitators, including Harry J. Peter, the creator of Wonder Woman. This particular illustration was the work of Dan Smith, a Danish-American artist whose drawings graced the World Magazine for twenty years in the early part of the twentieth century.

The newspaper article on Katherine as it appeared in the World.

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Information Desk/Just the Facts/Katharine Wright/The American Girl Whom All Europe is Watching

New York World feature article on Katharine Wright in Europe in 1908
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