Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner

   The Woman Behind the Pad

  Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was an African American inventor who despite facing immense racism in the 20th century, acquired 5 patents—more than any other African American woman to this day. She was a bright young girl and invented a self-oiling doorknob at the age of 6. Later, she attended Howard University but had to drop out for financial reasons and supported her family by opening four flower shops across Washington D.C.

  Kenner’s most notable invention was the sanitary pad belt which kept pads in place allowing for more mobility, comfort, and freedom for women on their periods.She created the belt in the 1920s but it took her until 1956 to accumulate enough money for the patent. Unfortunately, even after acquiring the patent, she was unable to get the product in the markets. Although this invention was a turning point in feminine hygiene products, Kenner never profited off it. Kenner recounted,

"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 my way. Sorry to say, when they found out I was black, their interest dropped.”
Because she was black, no company wanted to work with her, and the sanitary belt only hit the markets once her patent expired. Still, she continued inventing and patented a serving tray and a 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.

  Kenner came from a family of inventors: her father invented a portable clothing presser and hospital stretcher with wheels, her maternal grandfather invented tricolor lights for trains, and her sister invented a board game while bedridden with multiple sclerosis. Like most black inventors at the time, the family never got rich off the inventions but continued inventing as a channel for their passion and creativity.

  The sanitary belt was a stepping stone for the modern adhesive sanitary pad which is a crucial menstrual hygiene product in today’s world. Its snug design kept pads in place allowing for greater comfort and mobility. Despite overwhelming discrimination, Kenner pursued her passion for inventing which led to the creation of technology that has benefited generations of menstruators.

Tru-Fit Elastic Sanitary Belt, N.D.,