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.