Did you know that a BLACK WOMAN revolutionized the sanitary napkain…or MAXI PAD!
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was a self-taught inventor who created the sanitary belt and filed five patents in her lifetime.
By 1957 Kenner had saved enough money to her first ever patent: a belt for sanitary napkins. It was long before the advent of disposable pads, and women were still using cloth pads and rags during their period. Kenner proposed an adjustable belt with an inbuilt, moisture-proof napkin pocket, making it less likely that menstrual blood could leak and stain clothes.
Kenner’s first patent was in 1957 for the sanitary belt. While she originally invented the sanitary belt in the 1920s, she couldn’t afford a patent. Over time she improved her earlier version and other versions that were patented before hers. The sanitary belt aimed to prevent the leakage of menstrual blood on clothing, which was a common problem for women at the time. The Sonn-Nap-Pack Company got word of this invention in 1957 and contacted her intending to market her invention.
“One day I was contacted by a company that expressed an interest in marketing my idea. I was so jubilant,” she said. “I saw houses, cars, and everything about to come my way.” A company rep drove to Kenner’s house in Washington to meet with their prospective client. “Sorry to say, when they found out I was black, their interest dropped. The representative went back to New York and informed me the company was no longer interested.”
Beltless pads were invented in the 1970s and, as tampons became more popular, women stopped using sanitary belts.
Undeterred, Kenner continued inventing for all her adult life. She eventually filed five patents in total, more than any other African-American woman in history. Again, she continued to draw inspiration from her daily life. When her sister Mildred developed multiple sclerosis and had to get around with a walking frame, Kenner patented a serving tray and a soft pocket that could be attached to the frame, allowing Mildred to carry things around with her. She also patented a toilet tissue holder that made sure that the loose end of a roll was always within reach, and a back washer that could be attached to the wall of a shower to help people clean hard-to-reach parts of their back.
Kenner did not receive any college degree or professional training, and she never became rich from her inventions. But that was incidental; like her father and grandfather before her, she did it out of love for the craft. Most of all, she believed that anyone could become an inventor as long as they put their mind to it: “Every person is born with a creative mind,” she said. “Everyone has that ability.”