Sarah Boone: Improving the Contemporary Ironing Board

The 1800’s became a pivotal era for Black Americans, especially Black women. This is the period that gave rise to important events like the ,Underground Railroad, activists such as Frederick Douglass, and anti-enslavement publications such asThe Liberator and the Ohio Constitution, outlawing enslavement and prohibiting free Black people the right to vote.

Women were also finding their voices as well as their place in the world of inventions. But what about the women who were in the homes, holding down the household for their husbands and children? While these women were fighting in the streets, others were thinking of ways to make home life easier for the Black family. ,Josephine Cochrane was coming up with the idea of a mechanical dishwasher and ,Sarah Breedlove, AKA, Madame CJ Walker was putting her ideas together for the best hair care products for Black women. At the same time, Sarah Boone was figuring out a way to make ironing clothes easier.

Sarah Boone was born a slave as Sarah Marshall in the town of New Bern in Craven County, North Carolina, in 1832. She was married off at 15-years-old to James Boone and ,sources say, that is how she gained her freedom, because James Boone was already a free man.

Boone went on to become a successful dress maker after moving to New Haven. The Boones migrated from the South using a network closely linked to the Underground Railroad, moving to the Black community called “Dixwell Avenue.”

Sarah was a fine dressmaker and New Haven was popular for it’s corset industry, where dresses had thin waistlines and tight sleeves. Well, these sleeves were hard to iron and ironing this style of clothing proved to be a challenge.

Dressmakers were primarily ironing their clothes on a wooden plank placed across two chairs, a method that worked for a wide skirt, but not so well for the contours of tight, fitted material.

Boone came up with a solution to make a narrower, curved board that could slip into sleeves and allow for a garment to be shifted without getting wrinkled. Her creation was also padded, to eliminate the impressions produced by a wooden board, and collapsible for easy storage.

Boone applied for a patent for her new and improved ironing board in 1891, but they didn’t make it easy for her. Women faced discrimination in trying to get patents approved. Historians can identify only four African-American women who were granted patents for their inventions between 1865, the end of the Civil War, and the turn of the 19th century. However, with it’s approval in 1892, Boone became one of these first African American women to be awarded a patent. (U.S. patent #,473,653.) It came 8 years after, Judy Reed, who is believed to be the first African American woman to receive a patent.

Sarah Boone’s achievement is astounding but not more astounding than finding out that she could not read or write because, remember, she was still a born slave. She took lessons at the Dixwell Congregational Church just a few years before her invention. She read all types of technical diagrams and documents so she could write out her patent idea.

Unfortunately, because of slavery, so many enslaved peoples were not documented or accounted for, leaving little to almost no other information on Sarah Boone. There is even some controversy in online articles over the authenticity of her pictures. She died in 1904 at 72 years old from Brights Disease. She is buried in a family plot in Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven. On her gravestone there is record of her mother, Sarah Marshall, her husband James, herself and one daughter named Henrietta Boone. We can only imagine what Sarah Boone was like and how much history is out there from other successful Black Americans, especially slaves. Thankfully, we have inventions like these to remind us of our great history and the great people behind it.

Thank you Sarah (Marshall) Boone!

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