Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Lady Edisons by Patty Smith Hall

Most of us are familiar with inventors like Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison but many of the everyday things we use were in invented by women! As early as the American Revolution, women have looked at the common problems they dealt with daily and worked to find a way to make things easier. Whether it was combining straw and silk to make beautiful hats or designing a way to turn cotton into thread, these women used their minds and creativity to make our lives better. Today, we’re going to learn about three such women.

Beulah Louise Henry

Beulah was an American inventor given the nickname of ‘Lady Edison’ for her wide array of inventions. Born in North Carolina, she was the granddaughter of Governor W. H. Holden and a descendant of President Benjamin Harrison. While she enjoyed painting and music, her real passion was pointing out ways to make something work better. As early as the age of nine, she sketched picture of her inventions. Later in life, she said she had a complete picture of the finished product in mind before she started work on the physical product.

In college, she applied for her first patent for a vacuum ice cream freezer. Over the course of her life, she received over a hundred patents for such things as:

1) A protograph which is a typewriter-like device that produces an original and four copies without using carbon paper

2) A lockstitch bobbin-less sewing machine

3) A kiddie clock that taught children how to tell time

4) Can opener

5) Envelopes to simply mass mailings

6) Hair curlers

7) Plastic dolls which made them lighter and easier for a young girl to carry

Margaret Knight

The next time you go to the grocery story and ask for paper bags, you can thank Margaret Knight forthat. She was another prolific inventor who earned the nickname ‘Woman Edison.’ When she was a young girl, she worked in a textile mill in New Hampshire where she saw numerous workers injured by a faulty piece of equipment. That lead her to her first invention, a safety device for looms. In 1871, she received her first patent for a machine that cut, folded, and glued together flat-bottomed paper bags. Before she could get the patent, a man stole the idea and presented it to the patent office as his work. Margaret took him to court where she provided proof she’d invented the machine and was given permission to apply for a patent.

Margaret was given 27 patents in her career including one for an internal combustion engine. A motion picture is being made about Margaret and the court battle for her bag-making idea. You can find it here

Josephine Cochrane

Of all the female inventors I researched in writing this article, Josephine is my absolute favorite. Why? Because she came up with the idea everyone can appreciate—the modern-day dishwasher! Tired of sloppy servants chipping her good dishes, Josephine came up with the idea of a machine that would hold dishes in place while a water sprayer would clean them. She received the patent in 1886 and marketed her dishwasher to hotels to use in their restaurants. Hotel managers saw how efficient it was and placed orders. At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, her dishwasher was on exhibit, making it a household word. Josephine continued to market her invention until her death in 1913, but her legacy continues. In 1916, her company was bought by KitchenAid, and she is listed as one of the founders.

These three ladies, as well as many others not mentioned here, made our daily lives the easier with their creative and inspiring inventions.

Multi-published author Patty Smith Hall lives near the North Georgia Mountains with her husband, Danny, her two daughters, her son-in-law and her grandboys. An acquisition editor for Winged Publications, she enjoys helping new writers get published. When she’s not writing on her back porch, she’s spending time with her family or playing with her grandsons.



  1. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing about these ladies.

  2. These are so interesting, Patty! My favorite is Josephine, too. It's neat to know she's listed as a founder of KitchenAid.

  3. Thank you for the post! I had no idea that dishwashers have been around since the 1890's!

  4. Wow! The things left out of the history books.