Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (May 17, 1912 – January 13, 2006) was an African-American inventor most noted for her development of the sanitary belt.
She was born in Monroe, North Carolina and credited her father, Sidney Nathaniel Davidson (June 1890-November 1958), with giving her a thirst for discovering things. Her sister, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith (1916–1993), was also an inventor.
Kenner invented both a sanitary belt in 1956 and a bathroom tissue holder in 1982 (among other hygienic inventions). She invented the sanitary belt and the sanitary belt with moisture-proof napkin pocket. The sanitary belt gave women a better alternative for handling their periods. It was patented 30 years after she invented it, because the company who was initially interested in her creation rejected it when they learned that Kenner was African American.
Back in Kenner’s day, tampons were available to women, but they were discouraged from using them because it was considered “indecent.” Another alternative was to use a cloth or rag, but this method was often unsanitary and inconvenient. Women and girls who opted for cloth usually needed to stay indoors during their time of the month. Sanitary belts were not only more practical, they were more liberating. It wasn’t until the 1960s that maxi pads became more readily available.
As for the bathroom tissue holder, Kenner’s design was an improved version of the common holder that allowed the loose end of a bathroom tissue roll to be accessible at all times.
Kenner’s prolific creations also include a mountable back washer and a carrier attachment for an invalid walker.
She worked as a professional floral arranger and had her own business in the field of Washington DC area. She never intended to make money off of her inventions. She just wanted to make people lives easier.