Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
|Known for||Development of the sanitary belt|
|A.K.A.||Mary Beatrice Kenner, Mary B. D. Kenner|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||17 May 1912, Monroe, North Carolina|
|Death||13 January 2006, Williamsburg, Virginia (aged 93 years)|
|Residence||Monroe, North Carolina; Washington DC; McLean, Virginia; Williamsburg, Virginia|
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (May 17, 1912 – January 13, 2006) was an African-American inventor most noted for her development of a toilet-tissue holder attachment and an early version of sanitary belt. She has five patents to her name.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was born on May 17, 1912, in Monroe, North Carolina. Her younger sister, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith (1916–1993) was also an inventor who created a children's board game that explored family ties, "Family Treedition." She trademarked the game in 1980, which she had developed while bedridden with multiple sclerosis. Mildred was also a known opera singer in North Carolina.
Mary and Mildred credited their father for passing on his ingenuity and creativity to them. His preacher father, Sidney Nathaniel Davidson, was an inventor, as well, who invented a portable pants presser (patented in 1914.) Their maternal grandfather, Robert Phromeberger, also invented many devices, including a tricolor light signal for trains.
Her family moved to Washington D.C. in 1924, where she attended Dunbar High School. After finishing high-school in 1931, she enrolled at Howard University in Washington D.C. However, she dropped out after a year-and-a-half due to financial pressures. To support herself and the family, she at various times worked as a babysitter and an elevator operator, among others.
Mary, like Mildred, never had any specialized training. They found solutions to everyday problems by... finding solutions to the problems. When she was just six, she figured out a way to keep a door in the house from squeaking. Her mother would leave for work early in the morning and the noise from the squeaky door at the back of their house would often wake her up. She asked, "Mum, don't you think someone could invent a self-oiling door hinge?" And that's how she solved the problem, although she was too young at the time to patent the idea.
She would think up ideas all the time. She would often wake up in the middle of the night to note down her ideas so she would not forget them.
By the end of 1987, she had secured five patents, including the toilet paper holder attachment, an improvised sanitary napkin, and a mounted back scrubber and washer. Getting patents granted was not an easy task for an African-American woman in those years.
Mary invented the early-incarnation of a sanitary belt with a moisture-proof napkin pocket, in the 1920s. The sanitary napkin wasn't used until 1956, thirty years after she had first invented it.
After the invention, as told in Laura S. Jeffrey's book Amazing American Inventors of the 20th Century, "One day I was contacted by a company that expressed an interest in marketing my idea. I was so jubilant,... I saw houses, cars and everything about to come my way." To her dismay, the company representative rejected the idea after meeting her in person. "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."
Undeterred, Mary continued to follow her passion.
Mary's third patent in 1976, was that for a special attachment for a walker or a wheelchair that included a hard-surfaced tray and a soft pocket for carrying items. The inspiration for this idea came from her, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith, who was bedridden with multiple sclerosis. "After seeing her trying to get around on her walker, I thought it would be more convenient if she had a tray on it to help her carry things."
In the late 1970s, she invented an attachment for the toilet-paper holder which would give people easy access to the loose end of a roll.
The structure could be attached to an existing toilet-paper holder without modification. She filed for the patent on November 18, 1980, and was granted on October 19, 1982 (patent number US4354643.)
The invention also improvises on the shape of the holder, making it U-shaped with a pair of parallel legs having hook-like structures at the inner ends, which would enable one to quickly and easily replace toilet paper rolls.
This was her fourth patent.
Shower wall and bathtub mounted back washer
In 1987, Mary received her fifth patent.
Her idea was to create a back washer and massager that could easily be mounted on a shower wall or a bathtub. This would allow people to reach hard to reach areas on their bodies. The device would be fitted with a pad of foam plastic with a waterproof cover, and the other end would be mounted on a rigid plate supported by multiple suction cups.
The patent was filed on July 17, 1986, and granted on September 29, 1987 (patent number US4696068.)
Disposable ashtray holder and a top for car's rumble seats
Mary also came up with a disposable ashtray holder that attached to the cigarette package itself. She also created a convertible top for the rumble seats of cars.
During World War II in 1941, Mary found a job with the federal government. She worked for the Census Bureau, and later for the General Accounting Office. She also chaperoned younger women who attended dances at military bases in the Washington, DC, area. One evening when Mary was chaperoning a dance, she met a soldier, and they fell in love. They married in 1945, but divorced five years later, in 1950. She retired from the government work around the same time, after which she opened a flower shop in the Washington DC area while continuing to invent big and small things.
In 1951, she married James “Jabbo” Kenner, who also worked for the government. Their marriage lasted more than thirty years until James's death in 1983.
After selling the flower shop in the 1970s, Mary and James moved first to McLean, Virginia, and then to Williamsburg, Virginia. They never had children; deciding to become foster parents, they took care of five boys and adopted one of them, whom they named Woodrow.
Mary loved playing the piano and traveled to New York regularly to see Broadway shows.
Mary died on January 13, 2006, at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Washington, D.C.