Mary Kenner

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Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner died 2006.jpg
Born17 May 1912
DiedJanuary 13, 2006 (aged 93) Sibley Memorial Hospital, Washington, D.C., United States
NationalityUnited States of America
Known forsinging, inventions
Parent(s)Sidney Nathaniel Davidson

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (May 17, 1912 – January 13, 2006) was an American inventor most noted for her development of the 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.

The Sanitary Belt

Early Life & Education[edit]

Kenner was born in Monroe North Carolina, and came from a family of inventors. At a very young age, Kenner had an active, inventive mind that would often keep her up at night. Her father, whom she credited for her initial interest in discovery, was Sidney Nathaniel Davidson (June 1890 – November 1958).[2] In his lifetime, he patented a clothing press which would fit in suitcases, though he ultimately made no money on the invention.[3] 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 and commercially sold board games.[3]

Kenner graduated from high school in 1931. She attended Howard University, although she was unable to finish due to financial difficulties.[4] Kenner did not receive any college degree or professional training. Women at the time were kept out of scientific establishments or academic institutions.[5]

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.[6]


She invented an adjustable sanitary belt with an inbuilt, moisture-proof napkin pocket. Also known as a menstrual pad that women find very useful today. In 1956, she was finally able to save up enough money to get her first patent on it.[3][4] 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.[7][4][1] Kenner never made any money from the sanitary belt, because her patent expired and became public domain, allowing it to be manufactured freely.[1]

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."[8]

Between 1956 and 1987 she received five total patents for her household and personal item creations.[9] She shared the patent on the toilet tissue holder with her sister, Mildred Davidson.[10] She also held a patent on a back washer that could be mounted on the shower or bathtub wall.[10] This invention was patented in 1987 patent number 4696068.[10] 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.[11][1] She worked in her stores for a total of 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.[12] 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]


  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. ^ "Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner". Pioneering Women Herstory. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Tsjeng, Zing (2018-03-08). "The Forgotten Black Woman Inventor Who Revolutionized Menstrual Pads". Vice. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner: The Forgotten Inventor Who Changed Women's Health Forever". Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  6. ^ Riggio, Olivia (2021-02-03). "Women's History Month Profiles: Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, Inventor". DiversityInc. Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  7. ^ "The Forgotten Black Woman Inventor Who Revolutionized Menstrual Pads". VICE. 2018-03-08. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  8. ^ "Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner: The Forgotten Inventor Who Changed Women's Health Forever". Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  9. ^ David, Lenwood. "Women Inventors". NCPedia. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  10. ^ a b c "Mary B. Kenner Inventions, Patents and Patent Applications - Justia Patents Search". Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  11. ^ Carter Sluby, Patricia. "African American Brilliance" (PDF). NCDCR. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  12. ^ "Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner: The Forgotten Inventor Who Changed Women's Health Forever". Retrieved 2021-03-09.

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,