Special Collections and Archives gets all kinds of researchers. They include lawyers, scholars, genealogists, aerospace medicine experts, the news media, historians, students, filmmakers, archaeologists, authors, celebrities, and government officials. This summer we had a special researcher from New York. Annabelle, 9, and her mother, Susan, visited the archives so Annabelle could do research on Katharine Wright, younger sister of the Wright Brothers. Annabelle is interested in sisters with famous brothers. She got to see Katharine Wright’s report cards, personal letters, grade school autograph album, photographs, and even the pressed flower collection she created in 1891.
We asked Annabelle and her mother to tell us about their visit and this is what they said:
How did you select Katharine Wright as one of the sisters you wanted to learn more about?
Annabelle – “On my mom’s Facebook feed, she likes a page called A Mighty Girl. A few months ago, my mom showed me an entry about Katharine Wright and it had the photo of Katharine flying with her dress tied down with a rope.”
Susan – “After reading the first book in The 39 Clues series by Rick Riordan, which mentions Mozart’s sister Nannerl, Annabelle noticed a trend — sisters not being recognized for their contributions.”
Who are the other sisters you are researching?
Susan – “We started a list — and are always on the look-out for more. So far we have Nannerl Mozart, Fanny Mendelssohn, Jane Franklin, Caroline Herschel and Katharine Wright. They each have different circumstances, but most have the element of societal expectations limiting girls’ options.”
Why do you think it is important to tell the stories of the sisters of famous brothers?
Annabelle – “No one does it alone. Famous people always have help, but we don’t usually know the whole story.”
Susan – “What is often left out are the support roles, which have historically been the female roles. Although Annabelle would not be expected to run the house or take a back seat to her brother in any way, the brother-sister dynamic is familiar and makes these issues more understandable to her. This is one corner of the broader and multi-faceted equity debate that she wants to weigh in on.”
What did you find to be the most interesting thing you saw here in the archives? What was your favorite?
Susan – “Katharine’s autograph book, her plant collection and her French-English dictionary. Annabelle liked her autograph book the best because Katharine was around Annabelle’s age when she had it. We laughed that Annabelle learned cursive in school, but her handwriting is not nearly as neat as Katharine and her friends’. She also made a connection with Katharine’s plant collection because Annabelle enjoys identifying plants in nature when we travel and even has her own journal. It got us talking about the things we save and what it will tell people about us.”
What do you think of doing research in an archives? Was it fun? Hard?
Annabelle – “It was kind of scary at first because I had never been there before, but it was fun once I saw all the cool things Dawne set aside for us.”
Susan – “She made it so easy because she knew so much about the subject and did lots of digging for us. Dawne helped bring Katharine to life for us. We’ll be talking about our trip to Dayton for a long time! Thank you for such a positive learning experience. Annabelle is pretty excited that she has ‘already been to college!'”
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