Inventions are just another way people are creative. Women excel in creativity, and have focused it on whatever arena they have found themselves in.
We don’t know the names of Native American women who developed any of the pre-Columbian treasures that were found when Europeans arrived here. We know that the idea of democracy from the Iroquois Confederation and compulsory education were new to the explorers. They found Native Americans using chocolate, aspirin, gold plating, rubber balloons, toy tops, chewing gum, hammocks, oil extraction, and a container like a baby bottle. Their knowledge of 2,564 plant medicines revealed uses as anaesthetics, insect repellants, and oral contraceptives, some administered through syringe-like devices.
Given the chance, Native American women did enter fields yielding inventions. Born on August 9, 1908 in Oklahoma, Cherokee Mary Golda Ross was the first female and the only Native American engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, California during the Space Race.
Many times we don’t know the names of the women who have created our benefits today. A cliché is a woman’s place is in the home. So women inventors changed what this meant. Tour a home with me and see how many ways women inventors have helped us with our work.
An innovation in solar heating of the home is itself a contribution of Maria Telkes. Marie Van Britten Brown invented a home security system to protect our homes and contents.
As we open the refrigerator door, we can thank Florence Parpart. Our dishes are washed more easily because Josephine Cochrane automated a way to do them. The stove was Elizabeth Hawk’s contribution. Before the stove, Ayla Hutchinson found an easier way to cut kindling.
We might use Eldorado Jones’ improved electric iron on an ironing board created by African-American Sarah Boone over a century ago. We might write a letter on a roll-top desk refined by Sarah E. Goode, who also invented a folding bed, sometimes known as a Murphy bed. These are becoming more popular again for smaller apartments.
The number of women inventions grows even more when food preparation improvements would save us time and energy. Before our modern era, Sybilla Masters make grinding maize for cornmeal easier with her device.
Coffee from a drip coffee maker by Melitta Benz starts our day. For dinner, Pranoti Nagarkar-Israni invented an automatic pasta maker, the Rotimaker. Or use a combination egg beater and potato masher invented by May Conner. If we are really rushed, Totino’s pizza is good – that’s Rose Totino, who developed the frozen pizza dough we need.
An ice cream maker by Nancy Johnson can provide dessert. Or have some Nestle’ chocolate chip cookies based on a recipe they purchased from Ruth Wakefield. Yep, that’s her recipe on the back of the package. She got cookies for life. I would have also liked her to get a portion of the profits.
Put leftovers in the square bottomed paper bag Margaret Knight invented so it would stand up while being filled. Or toss trash in Lillian Gilbreth’s foot pedal trash can.
Cosmetic and Clothing Improvements
Women add beauty to whatever they create. They invented ways to look good while doing all the work. In earlier days, hair brushes used real hair for bristles, which only touched the surface of the hair. Lyda Newman increased the effectiveness of brushes by creating synthetic bristles. Marjaorie Steward Joyner created a device that would both curl or straighten hair. Anne Malone helped the famous Madame C. J. Walker develop a hot comb, which is still the basis for styling products today. On your hair during the same era, your hat looked better because Mary Dixon Kies developed a new method of weavinig straw with silk and thread for hats.
On the more intimate side, Mary Beatrice Kenner helped secure sanitary pads with her belt design. Caresse Crosby designed the brassiere. We both forgive and thank you, Caresse.
Child Development and Care Remedies (and Pets)
Of course, women are conscious of the wellbeing of children. Perhaps one of the most critical developments for newborns was the Apgar distress test developed by Virginia
Apgar. This test determines the viability of the infant immediately after birth, saving newborn lives. Mother’s today appreciate the non-spill toddler infant cup developed by Mandy Haberman. The Snugli or Weego child carrier invented by Ann Moore goes a long way toward relieving our aching backs and arms as we transport small ones. Marion Donovan emancipated us from cloth diapers. To keep the children occupied, Adeline D. T. Whitney developed alphabet blocks, Ruth Handler the Barbie doll, and for the older children, Elizabeth Magie created the Monopoly game. Or if your “child” is a dog, and you use a retractable leash, thank Mary A. Delaney.
Advances in medicine, industry, science and other fields followed as women were allowed to enter them.
Not surprisingly, few educational innovations are credited to women. Maria Montessori is perhaps one of the few whose names are known although there are hundreds of others. While they have developed and operated formal and informal education throughout our entire history, they are unknown and unsung. Their innovations within their classroom laboratories are co-opted, not compensated or credited, or are taken for granted. Today a handful are recognized with a small token for their efforts or perhaps $100 for their classroom. But they continue to invent every day. Perhaps in the future we will research and catalog this missing part of women’s history. Until then, they remain invisible.
But at least the celebration of Women in History has helped us see that, even if we are at home, just cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children, we invent our own help.
Let me know which women’s invention is your favorite!