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No, Mary Beatrice Kenner invented improved sanitary belt, not sanitary pads

A graphic posted on Facebook shows a photo of a woman next to a photo of two sanitary pads.

“She is Mary Beatrice Kenner, the woman who invented sanitary pads for women,” the text reads. “Her invention has Helped Billions of Women & Children to get Rid of Various Diseases.”

A Google reverse image search of the photo reveals that the woman is indeed the inventor Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner. But did she invent the sanitary pad?

Patent for improved sanitary belt filed 1954

Until the end of the 19th century, most women worldwide used some form of homemade cloth napkin during menstruation. That’s according to Clue, which offers a period-tracking app and a menstruation encyclopedia. 

Clue and the Museum of Menstruation say the first modern disposable pads were invented in the late 1800s and became popular in Europe and North America in the 1920s. Belts for keeping pads in place were being advertised as early as the 1890s. 

Kenner, born in the US state of North Carolina in 1912, did not invent the sanitary pad. But she did patent an updated version of the sanitary belt in 1954. She wrote in her application that “this invention relates to improvements in sanitary belts”.  

Kenner’s was the first product with an adhesive to secure the pad. It “eliminated ‘chafing and irritation normally caused by devices of this class’ and could be adjusted to fit women of different sizes”, according to the New York Times.

Beltless pads were invented in the 1970s and, as tampons became more popular, women stopped using sanitary belts. 

The woman shown in the graphic is Mary Beatrice Kenner. She greatly improved the sanitary belt, and filed four other patents in her lifetime. But she did not invent the sanitary pad. – Grace Gichuhi


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