Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
Born: May 17, 1912, Monroe, North Carolina
Died: Jan. 13, 2006, Washington, D.C.
Best known for: filing the most patents of any African American woman, most notably, the sanitary belt
African American inventor Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner had no formal training and had to grapple with racism throughout her career. Regardless, she filed five patents — the most of any African American woman to this day —for items she created with the goal of making people’s daily lives easier. Her most notable inventions include the sanitary belt, a precursor to the maxi pad; a serving tray and soft pocket that attached to a walker; a back washer that attached to a shower wall; and a toilet paper holder that ensured the loose end of the paper was always reachable.
Even as a child growing up in North Carolina, Kenner was interested in creating tools to help make everyday life more convenient. Her first idea — a self-oiling door hinge — reportedly came to her when she was only six years old. Though the idea never came to fruition, her ingenuity continued.