The Queen of My Self

Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said. And women have long stepped up to create solutions to the problems that they encountered in daily life as housewives, mothers and agricultural workers.

I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention – invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.
– Agatha Christie

It is believed that women invented agriculture and certainly it was women who invented pottery, ovens and weaving. But, of course we do not know that for sure.

The first woman inventor on record was Hypatia of Alexandria who crafted the first pane astrolabe, used to measure the positions of the sun and stars and to calculate the ascendant sign of the zodiac. She also invented circa 400 A.D. a device for measuring the level of water and another system for distillation, as well as the hydrometer. The hydrometer—or hydroscope—was a sealed tube about the size of a flute, weighted at one end. The depth to which the hydrometer sunk in a particular liquid gave a reading on the substances, specific gravity.

Sybilla Masters was the first American woman inventor. In 1712 she developed a new corn mill, but was denied a patent because she was a woman. Three years later the patent was filed successfully in her husband’s name.

Sara E. Goode was the first African American woman to be awarded a patent in 1884 for a Folding Cabinet Bed.

We’ll probably never know how many women inventors there were. That’s because in the early years of the United States, a woman could not get a patent in her own name. A patent is considered a kind of property, and until the late 1800s laws forbade women in most states from owning property or entering into legal agreements in their own names. Instead, a woman’s property would be in the name of her father or husband.

Women have been responsible for the invention of a wide range of domestic devices to make house work easier such as ironing boards, clothes wringers, the pastry forks, dishwasher, the flat bottomed paper shopping bag, etc. These were practical solutions to everyday problems.

Want is the mistress of invention
– Susanna Centlivre

Here is a small selection of domestic and beauty inventions by women:

1799 – Mary Moore – Pain Relief Composition
1867 – Elizabeth Hawk – Cooking Stove
1872 – Josephine Cochran – Dishwasher
1875 – Susan Taylor Conversa – One-piece Emancipation Suit to replace suffocating corsets
1880 – Ellen Elgin – Clothes Wringer
1882 – Adeline D. T. Whitney – Alphabet Blocks
1891 – Catherine Deiner – Rolling Pin
1892 – Sarah Boone – Ironing Board
1896 – Julia Terry Hammonds – Apparatus for Holding Yarn Skeins
1898 – Lydia D, Newman – Hair Brush
1905 – Madame C.J. Walker – Hair Care Products with Straightening Comb
1930 – Ruth Wakefield – Chocolate-chip Cookies
1950 – Marion Donovan – Disposable Diaper
1956 – Mary B. Kenner – Sanitary Belt
1959 – Mary B. Kenner – Sanitary Belt with Moisture Proof Napkin Pocket
1983 – Maxine Snowden – Rain Hat
1983 – Theora Stephens – Pressing/Curling Iron
1987 – Ruane Jeter – Digital Toaster

Women were also responsible to inventing major military, industrial, commercial and medical improvements:

1812 – Tabitha Babbitt – Circular saw
1843 – Ada Augusta Lovelace – Early Computer
1845 – Sarah Mather – Submarine Lamp and Telescope
1871 – Martha J. Costen – Maritime Night Signal Flares
1871 – Margaret Knight – Paper Bag Making Machine
1875 – Ellen Fitz – Globes
1879 – Mary Walton – Locomotive Chimney
1881 – Mary Walton – Elevated Railway
1882 – Maria Beaseley – Life Raft
1887 – Anna Connelly – Fire Escape
1888 – Miriam E. Benjamin – Gong and Signal Chair (used in the US House of Representatives.)
1893 – Margaret Wilcox – Car Heater
1893 – Harriet Tracy Sands – Gravity Safety Elevator
1899 – Letitia Geer – Medical Syringe
1900 – Florence Parpart – Street Cleaning machine
1903 – Mary Anderson – Windshield Wiper
1904 – Margaret Knight – Rotary Engine
1917 – Ida Forbes – Electric Hot Water Heater
1917 – El Dorado Jones – Engine Muffler
1951 – Bessie Nesmith – Liquid Paper®
1952 – Virginia Apgar – Apgar Tests, which evaluate a baby’s health upon birth
1952 – Grace Hopper – The First Compiler, a program that translates instructions for a computer from English to machine language
1956 – Patsy O. Sherman – Scotchgard™ Fabric Protector
1959 – Ruth Handler – The Barbie doll
1966 – Stephanie Kwolek – Kevlar, a steel-like fiber used in radial tires, crash helmets, and bulletproof vests
1969 – Marie V. Brittan Brown – Home Security System Utilizing Television Surveillance
1999 – Randi Altschul – Disposable Cell Phone

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to




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