The woman who innovated the sanitary pad

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.

Kotex Security Sanitary Belt (1948)

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


Madam CJ Walker

February is the month when black history is celebrated. African American hair care products wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the legendary Sarah Breedlove, born in 1867 to parents who had been enslaved. She is better known as Madam CJ Walker. In 1905, Walker released her own specialized products after suffering from scalp alignment that later resulted into hair loss. The company became so successful that it soon made her one of the first American women to become a self made millionaire. She owned and operated her own successful business, the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.

Discovery collection kit at QVC
Newspaper ad from 1915

Before the Madam CJ Walker Beauty Culture products, there was an original product called Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, specifically made to condition and heal scalp issues after she started losing her own hair. Though loss of hair was very common due to infrequent hair washes at the time and not many hair products for black women were available then.

Walker explained how her products came to be: “God answered my prayer, for one night I had a dream, and in that dream a big black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up for my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, mixed it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. I tried it on my friends; it helped them. I made up my mind I would begin to sell it.”

In 2016, Sundial Brands launched the hair care line Madam C.J Walker Beauty Culture which is available at Sephora.

To keep her legacy alive, Sundial, (acquitted by Unilever as of Nov 2017) the company that now owns Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture products, has taken their part in donating financially to continue the mission to create educational platforms and opportunities for women. Sundial announced a fund of $100 million dedicated to support women of color entrepreneurs.

The Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture line

“I want the great masses of my people to take a greater pride in their personal appearance and to give their hair proper attention.” ~Madam CJ Walker