By: Chelsea Carpenter
As March has come to a close, we want to recognize an amazing trailblazer for Women’s History Month–Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner.
A Not So Sticky Situation
Picture this: Maxipads, but without an adhesive.
Can you imagine?! Your pad would be sliding all over the place, getting wedged in uncomfortable spots. Oy vey! Not an ideal situation.
Maxipads as we know them today were not always the case. The ability to stick maxipads to your underwear is something that wasn’t fully conceived until the 1950s. We can thank inventor, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, for that. Kenner was an amazing African American woman who revolutionized the maxipad to become what we know them as today.
Kenner was a self-taught inventor who began her career at a young age. When she was just six-years-old, prompted by an annoying, squeaky back door that frequently woke her up, she created a self-oiling door hinge. Her young innovative spirit and ingenuity didn’t stop there. She invented a sponge tip to soak up rainwater on umbrellas, and a portable ashtray that attached to cigarette cartons.
A Family Legacy
Kenner came from a family of inventors. Her father patented a clothing press that fit inside suitcases, a window washer for trains, and a stretcher with wheels for ambulances. Her grandfather invented a light signal for trains, and her sister, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith, invented and commercially sold board games. It appears that genius ran in the family.
Mary Kenner received a patent for her adjustable sanitary belt in 1956. She had been working on this invention since the 1930s, and finally had the money for her patent in 1956. The belt included an inbuilt, moisture-proof napkin pocket and an adhesive to keep the pad in place.
Fighting Against Discrimination
Unfortunately, her invention did not make any money. In 1957, the Sonn-Nap-Pack Company contacted her because they wanted to market her sanitary belt, and sent out a representative to talk business with Kenner. When they found out she was Black, however, they quickly lost interest. By 1973, Kenner’s patent expired, and at just around this time beltless pads were invented by someone else. Soon after that, tampons became more popular, and, with these more convenient options, women stopped using sanitary belts.
Despite the discrimination and disappointment, Kenner continued to lead an impressive life. While she never finished her college education due to financial difficulties, she was a successful business woman who ran multiple flower shops throughout the Washington, D.C. area. She received a total of five patents in her lifetime, including patents for a carrier attachment for an invalid walker and a bathroom tissue holder. To this day, she holds the record for the greatest number of patents awarded to a Black woman by the U.S. government. During World War II, Kenner worked with the federal government for the Census Bureau and General Accounting Office. On top of all of that, she and her husband, James “Jabbo” Kenner, a renowned heavyweight boxer, were also foster parents to five boys— this fact alone makes her a hero.
March was Women’s History Month, and the perfect time to celebrate this amazing woman and trailblazer. Kenner ingeniously forged ahead in the world of menstrual pads with her invention. Not only did she pave the way for other innovations, but she also fought for women’s empowerment by making periods more manageable and comfortable.
The next time you use a pad, think about much worse they could be. We are forever indebted to the creativity and persistence of Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, inspiring women to dream big, work hard and never give up.