Sisters Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner and Mildred Davidson Austin Smith had the spirit of ingenuity passed on to them via their father and maternal grandfather. The pair eventually patented several household items, women’s products and even a board game over the course of their lives.
The sisters were both born in the town of Monroe, N.C., not far from Charlotte. Mary was born May 17, 1912, and Mildred was born January 31. 1916. Their father, Sidney Davidson, patented a pants presser in 1914. According to historian and former U.S. Patent Examiner Patricia Sluby, a maternal grandfather of the daughters was a man of German and Irish descent who invented a tricolor train light.
Mary was the more prolific inventor of the two, securing five patents between 1956 and 1987. She patented an early incarnation of the sanitary napkin by fashioning the device with a belt. She also invented a toilet paper holder, and a mounted back scrubber and washer for showers.
Mildred, who was struck with multiple sclerosis at a young age, invented a children’s board game that explored family ties. In 1980, she trademarked the game’s name, “Family Treedition,” in order to secure her legacy.
While neither sister aimed to get rich with their inventions, they produced their creations with an intention of improving the quality of life. In recent times, history has begun to recognize their talents and contributions as Black inventors.
In 1993, Mildred died, but not before seeing her game manufactured in several fashions, including in the Braille language.
Mary died in 2006. She forged a career as a floral arranger and owned a company business in the Washington, D.C. region.