Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was born in 1912, Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, she was fascinated by inventions, diy projects and asking questions that could solve everyday solutions.
When her family moved to Washington DC in 1924, Kenner would stalk the halls of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, trying to work out if someone had beaten her to it and led a patent for an invention first. The 12-year-old didn’t find any that had done so.
Kenner graduated from high school in 1931 and earned a place at the iconic Howard University, but she was forced to drop out almost two year into her course due to financial pressures. She worked odd jobs like babysitting before landing a position as a federal employee.
By 1957 Kenner had saved enough money for 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.
“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.”
She eventually filed five patents in total, more than any other African-American woman in history.