Black History Month: Featuring Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (1912-2006) was an African-American inventor most noted for her toilet-tissue holder and the sanitary belt with a moisture-proof napkin pocket.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was born on May 17, 1912 in Monroe, North Carolina. Inventing rans in her family: her sister Mildred Davidson Austin Smith (1916-1993) created and commercially sold board games. Their father, Sidney Nathaniel Davidson, invented a portable pants presser (patented in 1914). Their grandfather, Robert Phromeberger, invented many devices including a light signal for trains.
Kenner filed five patents in her life—more than any other black woman in history. These included:
The sanitary belt with a moisture-proof napkin pocket. The company who was initially interested in the belt rejected it when they learned that Kenner was black, so her useful invention wasn't patented until thirty years later! In 1957 she was able to save up enough money to get a patent on it. Until that time, tampons were available but were considered indecent, so women commonly used cloth or rags for protection—or just stayed indoors during their period. Kenner's invention gave women more freedoms during their time of the month, especially until maxi pads became available in the 1960s. Too bad we had to wait an extra thirty years to get it!
Kenner and her sister, Mildred Davidson, invented a toilet tissue holder in the 1970s and they shared the patent on it (US 4354643, dated October 19, 1982). This invention was created with the purpose of eliminating the problem of grasping the free end of a toilet paper roll, which happens when the free end of the paper is positioned tightly against the remainder of the roll. This invention helps by always keeping the toilet paper in an accessible position.
Other notable patents Kenner held included a carrier for a walker and a back washer that could be mounted on a shower wall.