Mary Kenner, Conqueress of Periods


Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner—born in Monroe, near Charlotte, in 1912—likely was the second most productive woman inventor from North Carolina. Between 1956 and 1987, Kenner received five patents for household and personal items, including a carrier attachment for an invalid walker (1959), a bathroom tissue holder (1982), and a back washer mounted on a shower wall and bathtub (1987). She did not make much money from her efforts, but she said that she was more concerned with making life easier for people than with getting rich.

Kenner invented both a sanitary belt in 1956 and a bathroom tissue holder in 1982 (among other hygienic inventions). She invented the sanitary belt and the sanitary belt with moisture-proof napkin pocket. The sanitary belt gave women a better alternative for handling their periods. It was patented 30 years after she invented it, because the company who was initially interested in her creation rejected it when they learned that Kenner was African American.

Back in Kenner’s day, tampons were available to women, but they were discouraged from using them because it was considered “indecent.” Another alternative was to use a cloth or rag, but this method was often unsanitary and inconvenient. Women and girls who opted for cloth usually needed to stay indoors during their time of the month. Sanitary belts were not only more practical, they were more liberating. It wasn’t until the 1960s that maxi pads became more readily available.

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner Sanitary Belt Patent Drawing

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner Sanitary Belt Patent Drawing

As for the bathroom tissue holder, Kenner’s design was an improved version of the common holder that allowed the loose end of a bathroom tissue roll to be accessible at all times.

Kenner’s prolific creations also include a mountable back washer and a carrier attachment for an invalid walker. Her sister, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith (1916–1993), was also an inventor. She worked as a professional floral arranger and had her own business in the field of Washington DC area.

Modern Day Update


THINX | Thong

THINX started on a mission to bring period-proof undies to the masses. Dedicated to breaking the period taboo, THINX has created a leak and stain resistant option for all women. Comfortable, breathable, beautiful - they keep women safe every day of the year. Meet the women behind THINX in the image below. (left: Radha Agrawal, middle: Antonia Dunbar, right: Miki Agrawal)

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Sources: Black Then:

Women Inventors "Lest We Forget" by Dr. Lenwood Davis
Tar Heel Junior Historian Association, NC Museum of History