Women’s History Month: Mary Kenner

By: Hayat Osman

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner is an African American inventor who was born on May 17, 1912, in Monroe, North Carolina. Her father, Sidney Davidson, was an inventor and she had one sister, Millred Davidson.

In her childhood, Mary Kenner was filled with many ideas. Mary wanted to invent tools to help make people’s lives more convenient.

In 1924, she explored the U.S. Patent and Trademark office and became familiar with the building and patent process.

Later, Mary Kenner graduated Dunbar High School and attended Howard University but had to stop attending due to financial reasons.

Although Mary didn’t finish her formal education she still used her spare time to invent. In 1957, Mary created her first patent of the sanitary belt (a sanitary belt was an early model for the type of pads women would wear during their periods). Originally, Mary had Invented it earlier in the 1920s, but could not afford a patent. As the years progressed Mary continued to improve her version of the sanitary belt.

Mary’s first patent of the sanitary belt was an elastic band that held napkins in place. Maxi pads were not invented until much later. But Mary’s invention was revolutionary and prevented way more leaks than the rags women used at the time.

One company approached Mary’s idea and was interested in marketing her patented invention, but when a representative learned she was black, the company backed away. Because of the racism and prejudice against women at the time, Mary’s invention was declined until 30 years after Mary invented it.

Despite the racism Mary faced as a black inventor, she continued inventing and filed five patents in her lifetime. Leaving behind a legacy worthy of celebration.

Happy women’s history month!

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