It’s February, the month where our nation celebrates Black historians that made an impact in the world, Black History Month! The month begins with my favorite poet’s birthday-Langston Hughes. Well, this post isn’t about a poet but a female innovator Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner who became the second African-American to succeed at an invention. To say the least, the first woman to file five patents throughout her lifetime-the most of any Black woman to this day. This self-taught inventor had no experience or training but had natural talent for discovery which came from her inventive father, Sidney Nathaniel Davidson. Coming up with her first invention at just six years old, she later became the woman to revolutionize menstrual hygiene.
Imagine what a woman’s life would be like today if menstrual pads were never invented, I sure can’t! Before the 20th century, women were not allowed to leave the house during their period. At the time, women were using cloth pads and rags for menstrual bleeding. Although tampons were already invented, they were seen as indecent. Sanitary towels were rare and expensive. Menstrual period was an embarrassing and shameful topic to talk about. Mary Beatrice is mostly known for inventing a sanitary belt in the 1920’s which was patented 30 years later in 1956 due to racism. The sanitary belt was made of elastic with a moisture-proof napkin pocket. The belt helped keep pads in place to prevent leakage and stains in clothing. Her invention later led to the creation of the maxi pad in the 1960s.
Kenner was eager to make this product available in the market to help improve women everyday lives. After a company heard about this invention, the rep traveled from New York to Washington D.C where Kenner lived to close a deal, but would later get rejected for being Black.
“One day I was contacted by a company that expressed an interest in marketing my idea. I was so jubilant*. I saw houses, cars, and everything about to come my way,” said Kenner, “When they found out I was black, their interest dropped. The representative went back to New York and informed me the company was no longer interested.”
Kenner faced some obstacles to be able to have enough money to patent the product which she later succeeded at in 1957. Therefore, she’d take credit but no profit for this invention after several companies manufactured their own. When she finally granted a patent for her sanitary belt, she had upgraded the product with a moisture-proof napkin pocket.
While we may be living in tough times where racism is still being exposed but no longer allowed, we can’t erase history nor the fact that some of these black innovators changed the world for good. A Black woman who would later come up with other inventions to make life easier, from sanitary belt to toilet paper holder. Kenner said “My inventions were never about money. I just want to help make life easier for people.” Now that’s something to celebrate about.
*Jubilant- feeling or expressing great joy