Mary Kenner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
BornMay 17, 1912
DiedJanuary 13, 2006(2006-01-13) (aged 93) Washington, D.C., U.S.
Known forsinging, inventions
ParentSidney Nathaniel Davidson
RelativesMildred Davidson Austin Smith

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (May 17, 1912 – January 13, 2006) was an American inventor most noted for her development of the adjustable sanitary belt, although racial discrimination caused her patent for the sanitary belt to be prevented for thirty years.[1] Kenner received five patents, which includes a carrier attachment for invalid walker and bathroom tissue holder.[2]

The Sanitary Belt

Early life and education[edit]

Kenner was born in Monroe, North Carolina, and came from a family of inventors. She reportedly had a child that few knew of until recently, a daughter named Jasmine that grew up in South Dallas.[2] Her father, whom she credited for her initial interest in discovery, was Sidney Nathaniel Davidson (June 1890 – November 1958).[3] In his lifetime, he patented a clothing press which would fit in suitcases, though he ultimately made no money on the invention.[4] Her father also patented a window washer for trains and invented a stretcher with wheels for ambulances.[1] Her grandfather invented a light signal for trains, though this invention was stolen from him by a white man.[1] Her sister, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith (1916–1993), invented, patented, and commercially sold board games.[2][4]

Kenner graduated from Dunbar high school in 1931. She attended Howard University, however she was unable to finish due to financial difficulties.[5] Kenner did not receive any college degree or professional training. Women at the time were kept out of scientific establishments or academic institutions.[6]

Kenner and her family moved to Washington, D.C. when she was young and here is where she stayed to keep updating on her opportunities to have her ideas patented at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.[7]


Kenner invented an adjustable sanitary belt with an inbuilt, moisture-proof napkin pocket.[8] She completed the patent application for her invention in 1954.[2] In 1956, the application was approved.[4][5] The invention was described as an eliminator for “chafing and irritation normally caused by devices of [its] class.”[2] However, the company that first showed interest in her invention, the Sonn-Nap-Pack Company, rejected it after they discovered that she was African American.[1][2][5][9] Kenner never made any money from the sanitary belt, because her patent expired and became public domain, allowing it to be manufactured freely.[1] She later invented a modification of the sanitary belt that included a "moisture resistant pocket."[10]

In an interview, Mary Kenner said, "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 to my way." A representative made their way to Washington to speak with Kenner and she continues to explain that they had rejected her by saying, "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."[6]

Between 1956 and 1987 she received five total patents for her household and personal item creations.[10][11] She shared the patent on the toilet tissue holder with her sister, Mildred Davidson.[12] She also held a patent on a back washer that could be mounted on the shower or bathtub wall, also known as a backwash.[10][12] This invention was patented in 1987, with patent number 4696068.[12] She also patented the carrier attachment for a walker in 1959, after Mildred developed multiple sclerosis.

Personal life[edit]

Mary Kenner worked as a professional floral arranger and had four flower shops scattered around the Washington, DC, area.[1][13] She operated the business for 23 years[1] after dropping out of college due to financial difficulties. During World War II, Mary found a job with the federal government, working for the Census Bureau and General Accounting Office. She would chaperone younger women to attend military base dances in Washington, D.C. One night while chaperoning, Kenner met and fell in love with a soldier, whom she married in 1945. They divorced in 1950.[6] In 1951, Kenner was married to renowned heavyweight boxer James "Jabbo" Kenner. Together, they lived in McLean, Virginia, near the Kennedy's complex. They were foster parents to five boys.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hambrick, Arlene (1993). "Biographies of black female scientists and inventors: an interdisciplinary middle school curriculum guide: "What shall I tell my children who are black?"". ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst: 132–144 – via Google Scholar.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Sluby, Patricia C. "BLACK WOMEN AND INVENTIONS." Women's History Network News, no. 37, 1993, pp. 4.
  3. ^ "Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner". Pioneering Women Herstory. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Tsjeng, Zing (2018-03-08). "The Forgotten Black Woman Inventor Who Revolutionized Menstrual Pads". Vice. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  5. ^ a b c Laura S. Jeffrey (1 July 2013). Amazing American Inventors of the 20th Century. Enslow Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-4646-1159-9.
  6. ^ a b c "Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner: The Forgotten Inventor Who Changed Women's Health Forever". Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  7. ^ Riggio, Olivia (2021-02-03). "Women's History Month Profiles: Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, Inventor". DiversityInc. Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  8. ^ "Lansing Area has Proud Black History." Lansing State Journal, Feb 14, 2019.
  9. ^ "The Forgotten Black Woman Inventor Who Revolutionized Menstrual Pads". VICE. 2018-03-08. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  10. ^ a b c Buck, K. (2017, Mar 02). Black female inventors and scientists. Los Angeles Sentinel
  11. ^ David, Lenwood. "Women Inventors". NCPedia. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  12. ^ a b c "Mary B. Kenner Inventions, Patents and Patent Applications - Justia Patents Search". Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  13. ^ Carter Sluby, Patricia. "African American Brilliance" (PDF). NCDCR. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blashfield, Jean F. (1996) Women inventors. Minneapolis: Capstone Press. Vol. 4, pp. 11–16
  • Jeffrey, Laura S. (September 1, 2013) Amazing American Inventors of the 20th Century. Enslow Publishers, pp 29–35
  • Sluby, Patricia C. (2004) The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. Westport, Conn: Praeger, pp 147–150
  • Women Inventors. Women Inventors | NCpedia, 2011,