It is often misunderstood by people with racial thoughts to dwell in the ideology that blacks are racially inferior or mentally inept. Well, the inspiring story of Mary Davidson Beatrice Kenner is one of the many staunch antagonistic stories challenging that denigrating concept. You may have probably wondered why this terrific personality never made mainstream headlines too. Relax! Grab your popcorn! You are in for an interesting story.
When I pervaded the search bar of Google to satisfy my curiosity of wanting to know the inventor of the sanitary pad, I had ashamedly expected to meet any non-African creator of one of the most useful inventories in the world. However, I was surprised to meet Mary Kenner.
Mary Kenner was born on May 17th, 1912 in Monroe, North Carolina, America. Kenner was lucky to have been born into a well industrious and creative family. Perhaps, this may have contributed to the numerous inventions she made as well. In 1914, Sidney Nathaniel Davidson, her father, was an inventor who patented a travel-sized clothing presser that can comfortably fit in a suitcase. Her maternal grandfather Richard Phromeberger invented a tricolour light for signalling to trains and a stretcher on wheels for ambulances. An invention notable to this day. Her sister Mildred Davidson Austin Smith grew up to patent a board game known as Family Treedition. Therefore, Kenner grew up amid super talented Negros. That creative venom moved her to begin inventing at an infant stage.
At the age of 6, Mary Kenner invented a self-oiling hinge for doors that loudly creak. Although that idea didn’t catch the attention of many faces, Kenner was keen on not giving up. Throughout her childhood, she created a portable ashtray that can be attached to a cigarette carton and a sponge that can perfectly usurp rainwater at the tip of an umbrella. Kenner acknowledges her father for encouraging her to explore various things.
When her family relocated to Washington D.C. in 1924, she traversed the halls of the U.S Patent and Trademark Office in a bid to get familiar with the surroundings and the details of the patent process.
7 years later, Kenner graduated from Dunbar High School and enrolled at Howard University. She proved to be smart and witty but had to drop out after a year and a half based on inadequate finance. This led her to seek other job opportunities to aid her upkeep. During the rancour of WWII, Kenner took up a job as a federal employee. In 1950, Mary Kenner grew interested in flowers and eventually became a professional florist. A job she gracefully practised while venturing into other inventions.
THE SANITARY BELT
Mary Kenner is often known as the forgotten inventor who revolutionized menstrual products. Her first patent was in 1957 for the sanitary belt. This invention was by far preferable to the alternatives women had at the time. The topic of menstruation like in some societies of today was abominable and ticked as taboo. It was hardly mentioned. Most women relied on improvised materials as a means to carve out their menstrual products. Mary Kenner had originally invented the sanitary belt in the 1920s, but she couldn’t afford to file for patent at the time. It was to her advantage albeit. She constantly took valuable time updating the primary version of the invention to meet her wish.
Three years later, she filed another patent for a ‘sanitary belt with a moisture proof’. This moisture-proof napkin pocket built into the belt prevented more leaks than the other patches and makeshifts women were using at the time. This version was durable and efficient as it was highly unlikely for blood to leak onto clothing. The actual goal of the sanitary belt was to prevent the leakage of menstrual blood on clothing – a common problem for many women at the time that was overlooked.
Mary Kenner faced racism during what is seen by many as a successful career. As the news of Kenner’s invention made headway, the Sonn-Nap-Pack Company heard of her invention in 1957 and was interested in producing and marketing her products. However, they made a U-turn when they learn that she was African-American. In a more crude and mannerless term, she was denied an opportunity 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,” she said in Laura F. Jeffrey’s book, “Amazing American Inventors of the 20th Century.” “Sorry to say, when they found out I was black, their interest dropped.”
Due to the racial setup, the sanitary belt was not patented until 30 years after Kenner introduced it.
Mary Kenner has filed five patents in her lifetime. She holds the record of having more patents than any other African American woman in history. In 1976, when her sister was down with multiple sclerosis, Kenner patented a serving tray and a soft pocket for carrying items that can be attached to her walker. She and her sister invented a toilet paper holder they patented in 1982. Her final patent, granted on September 29, 1987, was for a mounted back washer and massager.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner passed away on January 13, 2006, in Washington D.C. at the age of 93.
Kenner sadly didn’t receive any awards or national recognition for her work. She also never had an advanced degree. Nevertheless, her inventions and contributions laid the solid foundation for subsequent innovations including what we know today as the Sanitary Pad.