Even as a former florist, inventor Mary Kenner never got her flowers

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Born May 17, 1912 in Monroe, North Carolina, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was the inventor of many products still used today.

Her father was inventor Sidney Nathaniel Davidson and her mother is unknown to public records; she has one brother, sister, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith.

Throughout history, black women have often been barred from joining institutions dedicated to science, technology, and engineering, yet have continued in the face of institutional racism. Denied because of the color of her skin, Mary Kenner persevered and ended up filing five patents with the U.S. government, more than any other African-American woman in history.

According BlackPast, Kenner patented several inventions in her 40s, however, she began inventing at the age of six when she attempted to invent a self-oiling door hinge. Invention ran in the family. His maternal grandfather Robert Phromeberger’s most notable inventions were a tricolor light signal for trains and a wheeled stretcher for ambulances. In 1914, his father patented a clothes press that could fit in a suitcase. In 1980, his sister invented “Family Treedition”, a family board game.

Mary Kenner had many ideas as a child, including a convertible top that would go over the folding car seat, a sponge tip at the end of an umbrella that would soak up rainwater, and a portable ashtray. that would attach to a pack of cigarettes. When her family moved to Washington DC in 1924, they walked the halls of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to familiarize themselves with the building and the patent process.

In 1931 Kenner graduated from Dunbar High School and began attending Howard University, but dropped out after a year and a half for financial reasons. She then went on to odd jobs, and in 1941, she became a federal employee, remaining there for the rest of the decade. In 1950, she became a professional florist and ran her flower shop until the 1970s while inventing in her spare time.

Kenner’s first patent dates back to 1956 for the sanitary belt. While she originally invented the hygienic belt in the 1920s, she couldn’t afford a patent. Over time, she improved her previous version and other versions patented before hers. The hygienic belt was intended to prevent menstrual blood from leaking onto clothing, which was a common problem for women at the time.

Mary Kenner patent for sanitary belt (Image source: Google patents)

Racism… what else?

The Sonn-Nap-Pack company got wind of this invention and contacted her with the intention of marketing her invention, but when they discovered that she was black, they refused.

Because of the pervasive united front of discrimination against blacks during this period, many black inventors would hire a trusted white ally to submit the paperwork on their behalf or present themselves as the “face” of the company. Just like modern black homeowners who replace their own family portraits in their house with white photos to get a fair deal, black people have long had to hide in plain sight just to get what’s fair. By representing herself, the dominant society would not allow her access to capital, which would have allowed her family to have generational wealth.

By not being able to knock when the iron was hot, beltless pads were invented in the 1970s, and as tampons became more popular, women stopped using sanitary belts. Kenner never made any money from the sanitary belt, as its patent expired and fell into the public domain, allowing it to be freely manufactured on October 19, 1982. #4354643.

According Science Museum Group, her sister and fellow inventor, Mildred was living with multiple sclerosis, so Mary invented an accessory for her walker that included a tray and pocket, allowing Mildred the dignity to move herself and her belongings unaided. Kenner constantly saw problems and came up with inventions to solve them for herself, her family, and society at large.

Between 1956 and 1987, she received a total of five patents for her designs of household and personal items. She also held a patent on a back washer that could be mounted on the shower or tub wall. This invention was patented in 1987 patent number 4696068.

Mary Davison Kenner married James “Jabbo” Kenner in 1951. He died in 1983. They were foster parents and adopted Woodrow, one of their five foster children.

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner died on January 13, 2006 in Washington DC at the age of 93.

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