Its been black history month this February .. and its only right that we mark this is some way.  Most people will have heard of the likes of Rosa Parkes and her stand against apartheid back in 1955 (she sat down on the bus on the day I was born – fancy that), but there are many other women who stand out for their efforts in different ways.

Like Sarah Boone.

She was an African American dressmaker who made her name by inventing the modern-day ironing board. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was “to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.” With its approval in 1892, Boone became one of the first African American women to be awarded a patent.

Sarah Boone was born Sarah Marshall near the town of New Bern in Craven County, North Carolina, in 1832. The daughter of enslaved parents, she earned her freedom at one point; some sources say it came with her 1847 marriage to James Boone, a free African American. The couple went on to have eight children.   She taught herself to read and write, at a time when it was virtually unheard of for a woman of her background to enjoy these skills.

.Like many inventions, the idea was born out of necessity.   A need to present a professional finish to the garments she created for what was, and still is, a competitive market.  By the 1890’s she specialised in making the corsets that were part of a ladies lingerie. 

 

To that point, dressmakers were primarily ironing their clothes on a wooden plank placed across two chairs, a method that was fine for a wide skirt but ill-suited for the contours of tight, fitted material. Sarah’s solution was to create a narrower, curved board that could slip into sleeves and allow for a garment to be shifted without getting wrinkled. Her creation also was padded, to eliminate the impressions produced by a wooden board, and collapsible for easy storage.

And so the modern ironing board was born.  The next time you set up your ironing board spare a thought for Sarah Boone, pioneering the way for what we have today.

(Clarification … the patent is for Sarah Boone’s design, and there are lots of other patents out there that will relate to the different component parts of the variety of ironing boards to know today)

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