As part of our contribution to celebrating Women's History Month, we're introducing you to Mary Kies, America's First female patent holder!
On May 15, 1809, Mary became the first woman to be awarded a US patent. This was a full 19 years after the passage of the 1790 Patent Act that allowed "any person or persons" to petition the US government for protection of their original methods and designs. The Patent Act technically opened the door for both men and women to protect their inventions, but at the time, in many states, women couldn't own property independent of their husbands or fathers. As a result, many women never tried, but Kies was an absolute pioneer in breaking that trend.
A Fashionable Solution to an Economic Problem
Her patent was a method for weaving straw and silk. The Napoleonic Wars between France and Britain had resulted in a trade embargo on British goods in 1807. This embargo was economically devastating and forced the early American fashion industry to be less dependent on imports. New England women turned to straw hat making as one DIY solution. Kies' approach involved weaving silk into the straw, creating a more aesthetically pleasing appearance and kicking off an early American fashion fad. James Madison signed this patent into law and reportedly, Dolley Madison wrote Kies a letter, congratulating her on her contribution to helping women in history.
Still a Gap 232 Years Later
We've come a long way since Mary's time, but even now, less than 22% of U.S. patents have at least one woman inventor named and among the entire US inventor demo, women only account for 12% of inventor-patentees. Be sure to check out our Innovation is for Everyone post to learn more about the USPTO's Expanding Innovation Initiative that includes a free crash-course on the fundamentals of patent prosecution, as well as opportunities for mentoring, and access to community groups.