Women's History Month: Featuring Founder Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner

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Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner

Did you know March is Women’s History Month? In 1987, Congress declared the very first “Women’s History Month,” and ever since each President has issued an annual proclamation so designating each March in order to celebrate the vital role of women in American history. This March, the WIN Lab is highlighting on our blog some incredible historical women founders.

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was a busy inventor who received five patents for items related to personal hygiene between 1956 and 1987. Her patents included: a carrier attachment for an invalid walker (1959), a bathroom tissue holder (1982), and a back washer mounted on a shower wall and bathtub (1987). But perhaps she is most famous for inventing a sanitary belt in the 1920’s which was patented in 1956.

Now many of you might not immediately recognize what a “sanitary belt” might be. Kenner’s invention gave women a better alternative for handling their periods as the first form of modern menstruation protection, which led to the creation of the maxi pad in the 1960’s. The sanitary belt was not self-adhesive like they are today, but it did include an elastic belt to keep pads in place for women. In fact, during Kenner’s lifetime, many women did not use tampons which were available to them because they were considered “indecent”; those women who chose to use cloth or rag alternatives had to stay indoors while using them which made it very unsanitary and restrictive.

Kenner did experience significant setbacks in her career, and she never did make money from her efforts largely because of racism. Companies who were initially interested in her creations rejected them when they learned Kenner was African American. Although she did not realize monetary gain, Kenner was proud that she could contribute to making life easier for people, which she explained was her deepest motivation. Kenner also owned a popular floral business in Washington, DC.