The incredible achievements of Black women are often overlooked and go ignored. The reality is that, although you may not realise it, Black women are responsible for many of the things that we use every single day.
This Black History Month we want to celebrate African women and pay tribute to all of the fantastic things that they’ve achieved over the years.
What is Black History Month, and when is Black History Month?
Black History Month is dedicated to celebrating African American culture and the history of Africa. It’s an opportunity to recognise all of the amazing achievements that can be attributed to Black people throughout history.
Black History Month runs throughout the month of February in the US and October in the UK. Black History Month is a new theme for celebrating Black History Month is selected every year. If you’re wondering how to celebrate Black History Month then there are always a number of different Black History Month projects that are available to take part in.
Alice H. Parker
When the temperature outside starts to drop, we turn on our central heating to ensure that our homes stay warm and cosy. We have African American woman Alice H. Parker to thank for the ability to do this, as she invented a furnace in 1919 that allowed people to heat their entire homes instead of just one area.
It relied on natural gas instead of coal or firewood and featured a number of different air ducts that were specially designed to circulate heat through larger structures. This revolutionary invention meant that people no longer had to rely on wood-burning fireplaces and it opened the door for the kind of heating and cooling systems that we use in our homes today.
Lyda D. Newman
The chances are that you probably used this invention this morning while you were getting ready for your day.
A Black woman from Manhattan, Lyda D. Newman patented the hairbrush back in 1898. Her brush was the first to use synthetic bristles instead of hair from animals like boar and was perfect for all kinds of African American hairstyles, including African braid hairstyles and African American natural hairstyles. It was specially designed to be extremely durable, more sanitary, and easier to clean with evenly separated bristles, sections that kept dirt and hair contained and separate, and a compartment that could be detached when cleaning.
In her patent, Lyda explained that the aim of her design was to ‘provide a new and improved hairbrush which is simple and durable in construction, very effective when in use, and arranged to permit of conveniently cleaning the brush whenever desired’.
Dr Patricia Bath
The first African American woman to be awarded a medical patent, Dr Patricia Booth developed the Laserphaco Probe which makes cataract removal quick and painless.
She also co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness and became the first woman to head a residency program in ophthalmology. On top of this, she developed the concept of ‘community ophthalmology’ which allowed low-income and underserved parts of the community to access an increased amount of affordable eye care.
Bessie Blount Griffin
In 1948, Bessie Blount Griffin was working at the Bronx Hospital in New York when she invented an electric self-feeding device that was specially designed for amputees. Featuring a tube that transported bites of food into the patient’s mouth, they simply needed to bite down on the tube to encourage the food to dispense.
In 1916, Madeline Turner invented the fruit press which allowed people to create their own fruit juices. Turner paved the way for the modern juice presses that are now a firm fixture in thousands of different homes around the world. From cold-pressed and slushes, to smoothie bowls and frozen treats, we have Turner to thank for her ‘ingenious’ and easy-clean design.
Madam C. J. Walker
Do you use conditioner when you wash your hair? Back in the 1890s, Madam C. J. Walker developed a scalp condition that resulted in the loss of most of her hair. After seeking out advice from professionals and testing out multiple store-bought, and homemade remedies, Walker decided to develop her own unique solution.
Her namesake Wonderful Hair Grower was a specially formulated conditioning treatment and was also designed to care for and heal the scalp. Her invention and innovation revolutionised how African women hairstyles were treated and cared for and made looking after African American short hairstyles and African American male hairstyles easier than ever before.
In 1892, former slave Sarah Boone patented a new and improved version of the ironing board. The original design was brilliant for men's clothing, but when it came to clothing for African American women, it was suboptimal.
Sarah’s board was narrow, curved, and also reversible. This made it ideal when it came to ironing African outfits for women, African dresses for women, and other pieces of African attire for women.
The result was an invention that was ‘particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies' garments’, and changed how beautiful African women cared for their clothes. Nowadays these ironing boards are used all over the world to not only smooth out African clothing for women but to care for a variety of other clothing styles too.
Another fantastic innovation when it comes to African hairstyles, Theora Stephens patented the curling iron back in 1980.
A Black hairdresser, Theora was reportedly fed up with hair products and tools that were counterintuitive and made her job more difficult than it had to be. She developed, ‘a more efficient pressing and curling iron’ that was ideal for working with African American short curly hairstyles, African American braided hairstyles, cornrows, and countless other hairstyles for African American women.
NASA data analyst, Valerie Thomas managed the Landsat program - which was responsible for the production of millions of pictures of Earth. She also invented the technology behind more advanced TV screens, modern 3D technology, and in 1980, the illusion transmitter used to create 3D movies.
Sanitary products have come a long way in the last few hundred years and we have Mary Kenner to thank for a lot of that progress. In 1954 she filed a patent for an adjustable belt with a moisture-proof pocket that could be worn under women’s clothes and kept sanitary pads in place.
It might have been a revolutionary design, but Mary had to deal with horrific racism. ‘One day I was contacted by a company that expressed an interest in marketing my idea. I was so jubilant. 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.’
The joke was on them however as in 1957 her patent was granted and sanitary belts were widely used until they went out of fashion in the 1980s. Mary Kenner is also responsible for the invention of the bathroom tissue holder, a carrier attachment for invalid walkers, and a mounted shower back washer, no doubt making her one of the most influential African American women in all of history.
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