In 1887, the Los Angeles Times declared, “This is an age not only of millionaires, but of millionairesses as well.” Wealthy women “worth their weight in gold” have existed from the beginning of American history, but these entrepreneurs have often remained invisible to scholarship and to financial history.
Fans of the history of technology can quickly name a dozen significant British inventors, but very few would be able to identify any women with noteworthy discoveries. Women who could circumvent institutional barriers tended to come from rather privileged backgrounds, or to have social connections – patent rosters featured many aristocrats, including a cotillion of countesses, baronesses, and even a duchess or two. However, studies of female patentees demonstrate that individual initiative could be just as potent as wealth, patronage, and self-promotion in generating technological innovation and social change.
The surge of new inventions and innovations in nineteenth century America transformed the world to an extent that arguably remains unmatched today. Even among the New England states known for their “Yankee ingenuity,” Maine inventors surpassed their peers. Among the few female entries in the National Inventors Hall of Fame are Helen Blanchard and Margaret Knight, celebrated because of their successful industrial machines. But the typical woman inventor productively directed their attention to supposedly minor “feminine inventions” like dress charts and kitchen tools that improved the lives of other women and their families.
Usually reputable sources like the Guinness World Record claim that Madam C. J. Walker was the “first self-made millionairess” in the United States. However, Walker was not the first minority businesswoman who acquired enormous wealth. Numerous American Indians, Asians and black women have prospered through their own initiative and entrepreneurship, from the founding of the Republic.
Who was the first American woman patent lawyer? Novelty and priority in time are central to patent law, and it is especially apt to consider the pioneers who expanded diversity in the field. For those who think they know the answer to this question, this post will be surprising. She was Edith Julia Griswold (1863-1926); […]