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Milton Wright (bishop)

Milton Wright (17 November 18283 April 1917) was the father of aviation pioneers Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright, and a Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

The Wright Family

Early life

Wright was born on the Indiana frontier, in Rush County. He attended Hartsville College, and graduated in 1854.

Marriage

Milton met Susan at Hartsville College in 1853, where he was appointed supervisor of the preparatory department and she was a literature student. After a long courtship, Milton asked Susan to marry him and accompany him on his assignment by the church to Oregon. She declined, but agreed to marry him when he returned. They married in 1859, when he was almost 31 and she was 28.

Both shared a love of learning for the sake of learning. Their home had two libraries — the first consisted of books on theology, the second was a large, varied collection. Looking back on his childhood, Orville once commented that he and his brother had

“special advantages...we were lucky enough to grow up in a home environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused their curiosity.”

Children

Susan and Milton had seven children. Four sons and one daughter survived past infancy. Their first son, Reuchlin, was born in a log cabin in 1861 near Fairmont, Indiana. The second son, Lorin, was born in 1862 in Orange Township, Fayette County, Indiana. Wilbur, the third son, was born in 1867 near Millville, Indiana. In 1871, the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, where Susan gave birth to her fourth and fifth children, twins Otis and Ida, who died soon after birth. Orville, the sixth child, was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1871, and Katharine,the only surviving daughter, was born in 1874.

None of the Wright children had middle names. Instead, their father tried hard to give them distinctive first names. Wilbur was named for Wilbur Fisk and Orville for Orville Dewey, both clergymen that Milton Wright admired. They were "Will" and "Orv" to their friends, and "Ullam" and "Bubs" to each other. In Dayton, their neighbors knew them simply as the "Bishop's kids."

Because of Milton's position in the church, the Wrights moved frequently — twelve times before finally returning permanently to Dayton in 1884.

Church service

Milton joined the Church of the United Brethren in Christ in 1846 because of its stand on political and moral issues including slavery, alcohol, and "secret societies" such as Freemasonry.

Indiana and Oregon

From 1855 to 1856 he served as pastor of the Church of the United Brethren in Indianapolis. He was ordained in 1856 and was pastor in Andersonville, Indiana from 1856 to 1857. Later that year, he went to Oregon as a missionary and served as pastor at Sublimity and first president of Sublimity College, a denominational institution.

Wright returned from Sublimity in 1859 and was assigned by the church as a circuit preacher in eastern Indiana, where he served also served as presiding elder and pastor in Hartsville, Indiana. From 1868 to 1869 he was professor of theology in Hartsville College.

Ohio and Iowa

In 1869, Milton became editor of the church newspaper, the Religious Telescope, moving to Dayton, Ohio. This position that gave him prominence within the church and helped him get elected as a bishop in 1877.

Bishop Wright continued to advance in the church hierarchy. In 1878, he assumed responsibility for the Western conferences of the church and moved his family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He traveled widely on church business, but always sent back many letters and often brought presents home. His gifts stimulated his children's curiosity and exposed them to a world beyond their immediate surroundings. Returning from one of his travels, he brought Wilbur and Orville a toy helicopter. The helicopter was made of bamboo, cork, paper and powered by rubber bands. When the first broke, the boys make several copies. Westfield College, in Illinois, gave him the degree of D.D. in 1878.

Division in the church

By 1881, the leadership of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ was becoming more liberal. Milton Wright, a staunch conservative, failed to be re-elected to his Bishop's post. The Wrights moved to Richmond, Indiana, where Milton served a circuit preacher once again. He served as presiding elder in the White River conference from 1881 to 1885. He also founded a monthly religious newspaper, The Star, for fellow conservatives in 1883.

As the liberals in his church began to press for change, Milton Wright sensed there would be a showdown with the conservatives. Wanting to get back into the fray, he decided to move back to Dayton, the political center of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, in 1884. It was the last time he would move his family. Wright was once more elected Bishop in 1885. He was to spend the next four years serving the Pacific Coast district.

In 1889, Milton Wright broke with the liberal leadership of the church and with others started a conservative church that continued with the former Constitution, naming the denomination the Church of the United Brethren in Christ (Old Constitution). Wright took an important leadership role in the new organization. Since they were in the minority, they had to rebuild from scratch. Wright's sons Wilbur and Orville provided publishing services for the new organization until a publishing house could be established in Huntington, Indiana. Wright also provided valuable support to Huntington College, established by the Old Constitution branch in 1897.

Keiter controversy

At the turn of the century, Wright was adamant about prosecuting the publishing house agent, Millard Keiter, who was accused of embezzling. Many members of the publishing board supported Keiter. Because of the controversy, Wright's home district, the White River Conference, voted to rescind his license as minister. The General Conference overruled the home conference in 1905, reinstating Wright. Keiter moved to Kentucky, where he was indicted for land fraud.

Retirement

Milton Wright retired in 1905.

References

External links

See also

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