November 5, 2003
On this Mother's Day weekend when AOPA has just paid tribute to Orville and Wilbur Wright by opening a new pilot facility at the site of their historic flight, could anything be more appropriate than to honor the woman who encouraged them: their mother, Susan Koerner Wright.
Susan Catherine Koerner was born in tiny Hillsboro, Va., barely 25 miles southwest of AOPA's headquarters in Frederick, Md. She was the daughter of a carriage maker and loved to spend time in his workshop. She's said to have been very handy with tools.
Mrs. Wright had attended college, a rarity among mid-nineteenth-century women, and was the top mathematician in her class at Hartsville College in Indiana. Because of her skill with tools, she often built household appliances for herself and toys for her children (Orville and Wilbur were two of seven children, two of whom died in infancy). When her sons needed mechanical help or advice, she was the one they turned to.
Susan and her husband, Milton, encouraged their children's curiosity and experimentation. Their home in Dayton, Ohio, had two libraries, which the children were encouraged to use. Later in life, Orville would comment, "We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests, to investigate whatever aroused curiosity."
Susan Koerner Wright died of tuberculosis in 1889 and never saw her sons' most famous invention. But she is undoubtedly the major source of inspiration for the two bicycle makers from Ohio who conquered the challenge of controlled, powered flight.
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