Saba® makes you feel #CómodaContigo.

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was an incredible Black American inventor who didn’t receive nearly enough credit for her innovations while she was alive. Her patents completely changed the way people all over the world go about their day-to-day lives – especially women.

A Natural-Born Inventor

Mary, who was born into a family of inventors1, had a knack for finding creative solutions to common problems. When she was just a child, she tried to create a self-oiling hinge for a squeaky door and a sponge-tipped umbrella that prevented water from dripping on the floor. When Mary was 12 years old, her family moved to Washington D.C., home of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. She would wander the halls of the building2 to see if any of her ideas had already been invented.

Most of them were not.

Mary’s First Patent

Mary submitted her first of many genius patents to the United States government in 1956. It was an elastic sanitary belt designed to keep menstrual pads in place. Before pads were made with adhesive backing and high-tech absorbent materials, most women placed folded cotton rags or cloths into their underwear. Some brands did have a disposable option, but the pads were downright uncomfortable. Neither option had a way of staying in place, so the material would shift and cause leakage.

The sanitary belt that Mary invented, however, was designed to comfortably hold a menstrual pad in one spot. It had straps that went around the waist and through the legs. The straps were elastic and easily adjustable so that every person could fit the belt to their unique body.

Women could finally have the ability to move freely while menstruating. It was a revolutionary concept at the time. Unfortunately, Mary had trouble getting her product in stores.

Determination to Win

The Sonn-Nap-Pack Company heard of Mary’s sanitary belt in 1957 and expressed interest in making and selling the product. Once the executives realized that Mary was Black, they pulled out of the deal3. She couldn’t find any companies willing to invest in her product for the same reason. The patent for her sanitary belt expired and her idea never came to life.

But Mary didn’t give up! She continued to invent things that made life a little bit (or a lot) easier for many people. Her sister, Mildred, had multiple sclerosis, which made it difficult for her to move at times. Wanting to help her sister live more comfortably, Mary invented a walker4 with a tray table and pockets.

She also designed a back scrubber that could be mounted to a shower wall, so people could clean hard-to-reach places and a toilet paper holder that made it easier for people to find and grab the loose end.

Thankfully, these inventions were patented and eventually adapted into products we still use all around the world today! Mary passed away in 2006 with the record for most patents awarded to a Black woman in America. Without Mary’s brilliant mind, there’s no telling what menstrual products would be like today!