7 Powerful Black African Women You Didn't Learn About in History Class
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7 Powerful Black African Women You Didn’t Learn About in History Class

Black women have played a powerful and important role in history, though you may not hear their stories as often. These women who have played a pivotal role in shaping our world have been at the forefront, defying societal expectations and making groundbreaking contributions to science, technology, and various other fields. 

Throughout history, their achievements not only showcase their intellect and creativity but also serve as an inspiration to future generations. In this article, we will celebrate the brilliance of a few powerful Black African women inventors who have left an indelible mark on history that you may not have learned about in school, but should definitely know more about.

Alice H. Parker – Heater

Alice H. Parker invented a furnace in 1919 that allowed people to heat their entire homes instead of just one area. The new and improved heating furnace relies on natural gas instead of coal or firewood. This revolutionary invention stopped the reliance on wood-burning fireplaces and it opened the door for the kind of heating and cooling systems used in homes today.

Parker’s design got a patent in December 1919 and helped give birth to the thermostat and the familiar forced air furnaces in most homes today.

Lyda D. Newman – Hairbrush

African-American Lyda D. Newman’s simple yet revolutionary invention hair-brush was invented when brushes were not as user friendly as we have today, and combing the hair cost an arm and leg. Her brush was the first to use synthetic bristles instead of hair from animals that makes women run  a brush through their hair a million times, counting each stroke which results in a waste of time. The brush was perfect for all kinds of African American hairstyles, including African braid hairstyles and African American natural hairstyles. 

The brush was designed to have evenly separated bristles, sections that kept dirt and hair neatly contained, and a detachable compartment when cleaning. Lydia patented the hair-brush back in 1898 and explained in the patent that her design was to ‘provide a new and improved hairbrush which is very effective when in use and convenient whenever desired.

Sarah Boone – Ironing board 

Sarah Boone invented the ironing board, patented in 1892 at a time, traditional ironing boards were bulky and difficult to use, making it challenging to press clothing effectively. Boone recognized this issue and set out to create a solution. Her design featured a narrower, curved board with padded ends, allowing for easier ironing of sleeves and other intricate areas of clothing.

Her invention allowed for better results and helped to streamline the process of clothing maintenance. The impact of her invention is still felt today, as ironing boards based on her design continue to be used in households worldwide.

Boone’s patent application reads “My improved device is not only adapted for pressing the inside and outside seams of the sleeves of ladies’ waists and mens’ coats, but will be found particularly convenient, also, in pressing curved waist-seams wherever they occur”.

Judy W. Reed: Dough Kneader and Roller

Judy Woodford Reed’s original invention led the way for this modern-day dough kneader and mixer with movable mixing or kneading devices with rollers or the like. She is the first African American woman to receive a U.S. patent number. 

Reed registered her dough kneader and roller on September 23, 1884. It improved the design to mix ingredients more evenly while being kept covered and protected. The application itself was granted with the subsequent publication following on the same day in 1884.

Patricia Bath – Cataract Surgery Device

Dr. Patricia Bath, a remarkable inventor in the area of cataract surgery. The ophthalmologist’s innovative device revolutionized cataract surgery by utilizing laser technology to remove cataracts with precision and speed. Prior to her invention, cataract surgery involved a lengthy and invasive procedure that carried a higher risk of complications. 

Bath’s patent Laserphaco Probe uses a tiny laser to safely vaporize cataracts in a patient’s eye. Once the probe has removed the cataract, a surgeon is then able to remove the lens of the eye and insert a replacement. This  replaced the traditional method of using a mechanical surgical tool with a laser-based approach, resulting in safer and more efficient cataract removal.

Dr. Bath’s Laserphaco probe led to her posthumous induction to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2021. She alongside engineer Marian Croak became the first two Black women to be inducted into the organisation. She was also the first Black female physician to receive a medical patent, the first Black woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology at New York University, and the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the US, according to NPR.

Marie Van Brittan Brown – Innovating Home Security Systems

Marie Van Brittan Brown revolutionized home security systems and paved the way for modern-day surveillance technology. Alongside her husband, Albert Brown, developed a comprehensive security apparatus that utilized closed-circuit television (CCTV) technology. Their system consisted of a series of peepholes, a camera, and a two-way microphone, all connected to a monitoring device located inside the home.

The sliding camera used the peepholes to capture images of people at different heights, while the microphone allowed Brown to speak with the person outside. She also installed an emergency button that would alert police or security if pressed.  Her invention laid the foundation for the development of advanced security technologies, such as video doorbells and wireless surveillance systems, which are widely used today.

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