A plurality of the most impactful innovators of home goods have been women. This comes as no surprise since, throughout most of modern history, domestic duties were seen as “women’s work”. It makes sense that they would conceive of devices to make their everyday tasks easier.
As a consequence of how little women have been valued in society, many household conveniences we take for granted have no credited inventor. This holds even truer for women of color. In this installment of Appliances Connection’s Black History Month Series, we’ll be looking at the visionary of the modern ironing board, Sarah Boone.
The Modern Ironing Board: Sarah Boone’s Early Life
Sarah Boone (nee Marshall) was born in Craven County, North Carolina, in 1832. Not much is known about her childhood. By some accounts, she was born into slavery. In 1847, at the age of 15, she was married to a freedman, James Boone (sometimes “Boon”). If Sarah was enslaved, she was freed shortly after marriage under unknown circumstances as they were able to move to New Haven, Connecticut.
The Modern Ironing Board: A Wrinkled Dilemma
When the Boone family relocated, Sarah Boone took up dressmaking as a profession, according to New Haven records. In the course of her work, she encountered the dilemma of how to flatten out creases in the sleeves and bodies of women’s dresses. At the time, ironing was done either on a plain kitchen table or on a wooden plank propped between two chairs.
The Modern Ironing Board: Smoothing Out a Solution
After much experimentation, Sarah developed a design of a tapered board on a stand. On the tapered edge, one could drape a cylindrical segment of clothing. Rotating the fabric around the board while ironing, the sleeve or torso portion of a dress is completely smoothed. So distinct was her new board, she was issued US Patent #473,653 on April 26, 1892. Sarah Boone was one of the first African-American women to receive a patent for a device that can be found in many homes to this day.