Stopping to read a historical marker, I found that in 1831 Susan Koerner had been born about six miles north of where I live today.
Who was she?
Her father, John Koerner, was a German wagon maker who had ventured to the wilds of Virginia seeking work. Her mother, Catherine Fry came from a large extended family whose farms were nestled outside of the village of Hillsboro, Virginia, in view of the eastern slope of the Short Hill Mountains. Nearby, Milltown Creek furnished the various mills in the area with a fresh supply of running water. After ten years of farming in the lush Loudoun Valley (Loudoun County), her parents decided to relocate to the Midwest. They settled in Union County, Indiana when Susan was one year old.
The family prospered in rural Indiana where her father continued his trade of wagon building and in time owned a farm with numerous buildings sitting on 170 acres. There were five Koerner children, but it was Susan who became the most interested in her father’s occupation of wagon construction. From an early age her curiosity led her to visits in his workshop where she watched him use various tools for woodworking and metalwork.
Susan grew up around the tools, the wood shavings, the pieces of metal. Along the way she became knowledgeable about the mathematical and mechanical concepts involved with wagon building. She also excelled in school, graduating number one in her class.
At a time in history when many girls left school to become married, Susan Koerner was admitted to Hartville College, a United Brethren School for higher education. Here she went on to shine in literature, science, and mathematics and was awarded the distinction of top mathematician.
By 1859 she had married a fellow student named Milton and started a new phase of life as a preacher’s wife. Milton was often involved in church activities and away from home on church business. If the children’s toys broke or some household equipment needed to be fixed, Susan often took it upon herself to remedy the situation; with her own tools.
One winter when the Indiana snows made the hillsides perfect for sledding, she realized her children were devoid of a proper sled, so she made one. I can only assume that she crafted it with precise mathematical proportions.
Five of Susan and Milton’s children survived to adulthood, four boys and a girl. Milton’s successful career with the Church of the Brethren meant that the family moved several times. All together Susan set up house in twelve different locations of Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio. But as busy as she must have been, family stories tell that she took the time to encourage each of her children to be curious about the world around them, and use their imaginations to dabble in projects of interest.
Susan Koerner died at home in Dayton, Ohio, in 1889. She was 58 years old.
Who was she?
She was a homemaker, a preacher’s wife, and a tinkerer of all things mechanical and mathematical. Susan Koerner was also the mother of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
It is to her credit that Orville Wright wrote: “We were lucky to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement for us to pursue our interests. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”
Remember that the next time you fly.
Thank you to Carolyn Unger for reminding me about Susan Koerner.
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