International Women’s Air & Space Museum

Museum Monday: Katharine Wright’s pantaloons

I’m racing to finish up the entries for my Hidden Museum Treasures book, which will feature the stories behind objects in museums that are rarely or never displayed.

When the project began, I put a call out seeking nominations from museums around the country. The International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio was one of the first to respond with a hidden treasure that belonged to Katharine Wright.

Most people know the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright and their game-changing, 12-second airplane flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on the morning of December 17, 1903.

Orville and Wilbur certainly deserve their place in aviation history, but they didn’t get there alone. Although she didn’t tinker with the planes, for many year’s Orville and Wilbur’s younger sister, Katharine, served as a sounding board, social secretary, housekeeper, marketing manager and ambassador for her brothers, making it possible for her notoriously shy brothers to attend to their aviation work full-time.

Sometimes referred to as “the third Wright Brother,” Wright’s story and her role in the birth and growth of aviation is among those told at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum, along with the stories of Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman, Harriet Quimby,  Jackie Cochran and many others.

Memorabilia in the Katherine Wright collection includes many items donated by the Wright family, including embroidered pillow cases, Limoges china, a strand of pearls and a lace dickey. “We even have postcards that ‘Aunt Katharine’ sent from Germany when ‘the boys’ were visiting with Count Zeppelin,” said collections manager Cris Takacs.

The museum also has the dress Katharine Wright wore when she accompanied her brothers to the White House on June 10, 1909 when they were presented the AreoClub of America gold award. Included with that dress are split-crotch knickers, or pantaloons, she likely wore underneath the dress that day.

The dress is displayed at the museum, but not the knickers. “As far as I know, they are the only knickers in our collection,” said Takacs. “I’m surprised the family would keep them and send them to us, but we have not displayed them because there are still some members of the Wright family around,” she said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate,” said a museum board member who helped put together the Katharine Wright exhibit.

Here they are:

And .. here’s the dress:

Photos courtesy the International Women’s Air & Space Museum.