Women’s Inventiveness

March 2, 2021- Mother always chortled at the notion that women were anything less than inventive. She essentially told us, “Anyone who thinks, for a minute, that a person can raise children without being the paragon of inventiveness, is nuts.

March is Women’s History Month, so I’d like to note the hugeness of this topic underscores the fact that men, by themselves, can only do a percentage of what needs doing, in moving the human race forward. Here are the stories of two women who invented objects that are today seen as ordinary, but which made a huge difference in everyone’s life.

Margaret E. Knight (1838-1914) was the inventor of the machine that produced the flat-bottomed paper bag, of lid-removing pliers, of a safety device for mechanical looms, of a numbering machine, of a window frame and sash, and of several devices related to the operation of rotary engines. Ms. Knight never married, regarding her inventions as her children. The flat-bottomed paper bag, alone, saved people from the carpal tunnel that resulted from dealing with envelope-style paper bags, day after day. The safety guard for mechanical looms, her earliest invention (at age 12), undoubtedly saved many people from being stabbed by sharp looming threaders and industrial-sized needles which could otherwise be jarred loose and become projectiles.

Bette Nesmith Graham (1924-1980) was the inventor of Liquid Paper, the first commercially successful correctional fluid. Her idea came from the remembrance that artists routinely paint over their mistakes, usually with white paint. Adapting this technique to the common business office, she managed to market correctional fluid, first for typewritten error correction, then for mistakes made using pen and ink. Liquid Paper remains useful in the latter instance, even in these days of largely computerized printing. Fun Fact: Bette Nesmith Graham was the mother of the musician Michael Nesmith, who performed as a member of The Monkees, a 1960s pop music group.

There are ever more far-reaching fruits coming from the human mind, which can never truly be compartmentalized according to physical gender, much less to the circumstances of one’s birth. I will continue, throughout March, to underscore the value of recognizing women’s contributions to our heritage.

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