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WONDER WOMEN WEEKLY: Mary Kenner – a disruptive inventor

Mary Kenner

Necessity is the mother of invention, but moreover, some inventors would always feel the urge and necessity to invent. They won’t fit in the societal frames and won’t do as they are told. Some of them were ridiculed or oppressed, but people who find their inner alignment withstand all the obstacles society sets inform them.

That goofy person having lunch at the neighbour table might be the disruptive creator of a long-needed product. This “weirdo” of a neighbour could have the potential to ease your life. Give them a chance next time you’re at a crossroads. It’s for the world’s best.

Such a person is Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner born at the beginning of the 20th century. A black woman in a time where racial equality is a novelty and women emancipation is just beginning,  a time when serious talks were kept for the privacy of men, women would still test, try and invent in the secrecy of the powder room or closets.

This week’s “Wonder Women” is in memory of one of the most relentless female inventors of the last 100 years.

The doorknob

Everything begins very early in the morning. At the dawn of the day, Merry’s mom will leave from the back door to work, and every time the little girl will wake up from the squeaky sound of the doorknob. Fed-up by that routine, she thought of inventing a self-made oiling door hinge.

This first project never finished, but it sets the initial spark to fire the passion for invention. This drive was running already in her veins – her father, whom she credited for giving her the interest in discovery, Sidney Nathaniel Davidson patented a clothing press that would fit in the traveller’s suitcase. Her grandfather invented a light signal for trains a generation before, and her sister – commercially sold board games.

Such a background can’t be a provenance of luck – if we are attentive enough, it seems that life is always pointing us in the right direction. As soon as we stop elbowing our way backwards or fighting the order the stream of Life takes us to,  scared from the unknown, quiet down and try to see through, the light should be within reach distance.

If we are lucky enough, we may find out it’s even within us.

Belted to racism

Almost 100 years after Merry has disrupted society with her invention, the area in which this product is meant is still taboo. Working as a professional florist at day and inventor at night, the first patent Merry registered was the sanitary belt, preventing the leakage of blood on clothing.

Inventions of Mary Keller

Her new product would change the lives of half of the world’s population. In the late 1950s, she had the solution, but being a black woman prevented her product from reaching the mainstream and get further developed. Sonn-Nap-Pack Company contacted Merry to market her invention, but once they discovered her skin tone, they`ve dropped their offer.

As a result, women would keep having their periods with the risk of leakage for over a decade before tampons get invented.

What a shame that was – to deprive humanity of progress because of racism and stagnated thinking.

The way forward

Fall one hundred times, get up one hundred and one times. People who find the strength to get back on their feet no matter how hard the fall was are the ones who have the power to bring change.

Miss Kenner and her sister invented the toilet paper holder in the 80s – her regular stalks of the halls of The United States Patent and  Trademark Office proved fruitful. Merry was always curious to find out if someone already came up with her idea.

Even though she dropped off from university because of a money shortage, that never stopped her from striking back with her intelligence and drive to make things happen. She was a self-made inventor, filing for five patents throughout her adult life – more than any African-American woman in history.

Now try to imagine the success she might have had if society wasn’t obstructing her with prejudice. Ingenuity running in her blood, Kenner was the living proof that we are the ones to forge our destiny.

Back to the present, at a dinner table talking about success and Life’s lessons, parenthood and the way to educate children, many of my collocutors shared the same story. Their parents brought them up with the concept of obeying societal expectations and being careful of what others would say. 

I had the image of my dad in mind who always thought me the opposite – be as you are and disregard people’s opinion if you know to hold the truth for your own life. I have the feeling Merry had a similar voicing in her own family.

Picture of Elena Sergova

Elena Sergova

Storyteller, journalist and freelance production fixer Elena has over 10 years of experience in Bulgarian lifestyle magazines (Amica, L'Europeo, Capital , InGlobo). Her on-field journalistic instincts mixed with experience in digital marketing, a go-getter attitude and Balkan recklessness make the solid compound of a successful production fixer journey.

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