Inventive Women



Hi.  Winnie Griggs here. 

I came across an interesting book the other day titled Feminine Ingenuity, How Women Inventors Changed America.  Based on the title alone I couldn’t resist purchasing a copy to check it out.  And if that wasn’t enough, the following blurb from the New York Times Book Review cinched it for me.  “Some  200 years of women’s inventions.  Some are brilliant, some are whimsical, but most were created by women who, in doing their work, thought, ‘There has got to be a better way.’ Then went on to find it”

 Though I haven’t read it all the way through yet, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  One of the things I find particularly interesting is the social mores of the time that influenced these women.  Though women have invented many useful and ingenuous items throughout history, it seems there was a particular dread of having their names in the public eye that held many women back from seeking patents in the early years of our country.  There was also the catch 22 for married women in that while single women enjoyed full control over any patents they acquired, it was a different story for their married counterparts.  Most states had laws well into the nineteenth century that either transferred a married woman’s property outright to her husband or gave him the power to make decisions about its disposition.

 But even so, many women persevered and pursued patents to mark their inventions.   I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the more interesting tidbits I’ve learned to date.

  •  1715 -The first known American inventor was Sybilla Masters who devised a method for processing Indian corn into corn meal.   The patent, however, had to be issued in her husband’s name As it was unheard of for a woman to own a patent.
  • 1793 – The honor of being the first American

    women to hold a patent in her own name went to Hannah Slater who developed cotton sewing thread.

  • 1845 – Sarah Mather received a patent for a submersible lamp and telescope that were used to illuminate the ocean depths
  • 1849 – Mary Ann Woodward received a patent for a motion activated fan that was attached to a rocking chair
  • 1863 – Clarissa Britain patented and improved ambulance wagon that allowed for placing cots of injured parties on racks inside the wagon without the jostling involved in transferring them to another surface
  • 1865 – Sarah Hussey, a nurse, invented an improved hospital table that focused on the comfort of the patient, including head and foot rests and a sling to elevate or lower injured limbs.
  • 1865 – Temperance Edson invented a ‘self-inflator’ for raising sunken vessels
  • 1871 – Margaret Knight invented the machine that folds and glues brown paper to form the ‘satchel-bottomed’  paper grocery sack. 

 I’m looking forward to learning more about the inventive women who helped shape our world as I read further into the book.

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

13 thoughts on “Inventive Women”

  1. Very interesting, Winnie. I think of the two sexes, women are the more practical. These women didn’t invent for the sake of becoming rich or famous. They wanted to help their fellow man and improve society. Mark my words, a woman will become president one day and I believe the country will be better for it. I hope I’m alive to see it. I’m so proud to be a woman, the weaker sex, only meant to bear children and see to a man’s needs. We are definitely not helpless! I hope you have a wonderful day.

  2. Hi Linda – glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, I believe, in general, women are far more practical than men. And there is so much more to this book than just a list of women and their inventions – it tells their stories and what sparked the ideas for their inventions

  3. Winnie, I love this. Some make sense in a woman’s world, like the cornmeal, the thread, the motion activated fan and the folding brown paper. But some are really big, scientific things not ‘female’ at all. The submersible lantern? How interesting. And the inflatable thing for lifting boats?
    Great post

  4. Great post Winnie! We have come a long way baby but not quite all the way yet. Women still don’t get credit for everything we do even in this day and time. Men still make more money then women and doing the same job. That’s what I meant by saying we are not quite there yet but we will make it one day just wait and see. POWER TO THE WOMEN!!!!

  5. Very interesting post today. We women need to toot our horn louder every day, just to be heard. Listened to the President’s speech today and was inspired, all over again. We Can! Just have to keep that in mind every day.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Hi Mary. Yes, I was surprised at some of these inventions, and even more suyprised that I hadn’t heard more about them. And of course there were lots more that I didn’t list here.

  7. Great blog, Winnie. I was impressed how many of these inventions were motivated by necessity.

    One you didn’t mention, but probably were aware of, was the wealthy woman who patented the first automatic dishwasher because her servants kept breaking her china and crystal.

  8. Mary J – Glad you enjoyed the post nd I agree – women need to be better about tooting their own horns. I don’t understand why more of these kind of accomplishments aren’t included in the school history books. It would be so inspirational to young girls.

  9. If the truth were known, I am certain many of the pattens issued were not to the men who are listed as the paten owners. As you said, early on women couldn’t own them and I am sure some ideas were developed by slaves and registered in their owner’s names. Financial backing was probably impossible for a woman to get for development of a product.

    Thanks for the interesting post. I’ll have to look for this book.

  10. Winnie, how interesting! I love your post today and really need to get the book, since I love research so much. I can feel a story in this blog … a heroine inventing something (not invented at the time–might be the hangup in the story LOL) and having to marry in order to get a patent! Oh, how I’d love to write something like this. Thanks for sharing the book and your inspiration.

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