Moms Make History in Dayton, Ohio

Yesterday, we headed south to Dayton, OH to check out the NPS Aviation Heritage site that focuses on three sons of the city: Orville and Wilbur Wright and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Plenty of RV parking, as you can see below. The sites are in west Dayton, across the Great Miami river from the city, an area that built up as a result of the street car. Within a several block area are the sites of the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop and the home of Paul Laurence Dunbar. (The Wright family home was also nearby, but was moved by Henry Ford to Michigan.) The main visitors center focuses on the lives of all Curriculum & Program Development
● Designed and implemented programs for network’s national education outreach: teacher fellows program, C-SPAN Classroom and the C-SPAN School Bus (production studio and classroom).
● Served as education liaison to community relations staff.
● Developed digital resources to correlate with state and national teaching standards, focusing on U.S. government and history for a national audience of teachers and students. Designed and maintained website.
● Set metrics and collected data to analyze program effectiveness and efficiency.
● Increased accessibility of C-SPAN resources by securing downloadable video exclusively for teachers; this initiative led to comprehensive project to make all C-SPAN video available online.
● Planned and supervised numerous conferences for teachers and cable system partners.
● Designed and implemented contests engaging thousands of students, including video documentary (StudentCam), Lincoln essay.
three men, their families, and their community of west Dayton in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Are their joined stories more than just a coincidence of geography? Yes. Orville and Paul were classmates at Dayton’s Central High School (Paul graduated, Orville did not.) The Wright brothers were printers and publishers (and had a bicycle shop) before delving into flight. They published Dunbar’s poems.

I came away most impressed with the way  their lives were linked in another less obvious way: they had very strong and influential mothers.

Matilda and Paul, from the Ohio History Connection.

Matilda Dunbar was born into slavery, made a life for herself in Dayton after the Civil War, taught herself to read and write, and then taught Paul. She worked as a laundress and took in boarders. She worked hard and encouraged Paul in his writing. Her house, preserved for visitors today, looked just as it did when her son Paul died here at the age of 32. The house interiors are of his study. Read more about Matilda from NPS.

Susan Koerner Wright tinkered with household inventions and passed her mechanical gifts on to her sons.  In addition, she kept the home life happy and together for her five children while her husband was often away with his work in the church.

Susan Koerner Wright, from Wright State University collections

You can see the recreated bicycle shop (original building) of her sons, across from the visitors center.

I loved this quote from Wilbur

We’d been to the site in Kitty Hawk, NC a couple of years ago. It is amazing. Dayton tells the story of the Wright brothers before and after their work and success in Kitty Hawk (they did some more flight tests in a field across town, also a site for visitors, but we skipped it.)

I’ll leave you with Dunbar’s most famous poem (I think) as displayed on the walls of the visitors center: We Wear the Mask and a shot of a mural across the street. Next up, Cincinnati, the hometown of my mother.