We've all been dealing with a menstrual period for quite some time, and many of us know a lot about the best pads, tampons, and cups that work for our cycles and respective lifestyles. But did you know that a black woman actually revolutionized the menstrual pad in its early inception and was able to patent five inventions, more than any other African American woman in history?
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and inventors, bought her first patent, which was for the sanitary belt, in the 1950s---well before disposable pads would become the norm. It featured a "moisture-proof napkin pocket" that would help women avoid leaks that ruin their clothes. Discrimination would keep Kenner from becoming rich from her pursuits, according to reports, but she did it for the love and was still a pioneer as a black female patent-holding inventor.
Here are five other black women who have been leaders in the realm of women's menstrual health and have empowered black women around the world to take charge of their own reproductive advocacy:
Image via Ruby Love
Crystal Etienne founded this company, formerly known as PantyProp, to offer undergarments with absorbancy that gets rid of the need for tampons or pads. The brand is even one of the first to offer swimwear (I live!) and has an amazing backstory of entrepreneurial triumph. Etienne took $25,000 to start the company in her home in 2015 and reportedly made $300,000 in its first year. It would eventually see sales upwards of $10 million by its third year. Along with period underwear, the brand has period kits, activewear, and double-sided pads, and it recently landed a $15 million investment deal to continue the company's expansion.
Image via Instagram/@iambeadixon
This brand includes tampons and pads that are chemical-free, 100% cotton, and herbal-infused. They also have feminine care feminine care systems (with the same awesome qualities) that feature wipes and washes to cleanse, refresh, soothe, and balance, and you can take a quiz to figure out what system works for your needs. Beatrice Dixon founded the company after struggling with bacterial vaginosis---a common condition that affects 29% of women ages 14-49 and has a higher prevalence among black women (51%) than their white counterparts (23%). After not being able to find remedies that were natural and effective, she decided to be the change she wanted to see. After "an ancestor" visited her in a dream, she worked to formulate plant-based products for the nether-regions, and The Honey Pot Co. was born.
Image via Black Women's Health Imparative
Linda Goler Blount oversees the strategy and implementation of this organization's initiatives which work toward health equity and reproductive justice for black women. Last year, the BWHI launched an initiative called the Positive Period! Campaign, raising funds to provide 2,000 menstrual cups for women and girls in Kigali, Rwanda and Atlanta, Ga. in partnership with the Freedom Cup Company. Purchases of the cups will be matched 3-to-1. The organization has also hosted talks with women in an effort to lift the shame related to menstruation and reproductive health issues in the black community and has forged relationships with other diaspora communities to open dialogue on the issue, raise awareness for more advanced gynecological and reproductive healthcare resources and research for black women.
Image via The White Dress Project
This founder suffered from excessive bleeding and other symptoms of uterine fibroids and decided to start her own organization where women could find information, sisterhood, and advocacy. She was also able to rally for the passing of a resolution to make July Fibroids Awareness Month in Georgia, and the campaign continues for other states. Fibroids, benign tumors that cause heavy bleeding and pain and can lead to infertility, are more prevalent among black women (with studies showing that 60% will have them by 35). They can wreak havoc on your menstrual cycle, self-esteem, and overall quality of life, so having resources that centralize support for black women is key especially since there are still disparities for us in terms of healthcare resources and treatment related to our reproductive systems and maternal health. The White Dress Project sponsors events where women wear white to lift the shame and honor healthcare leaders as well as other fibroid survivors including Real Housewives of Atlanta's Cynthia Bailey.
Image via Instagram/@shaniciaboswell
Shanicia Boswell's platform isn't totally dedicated to menstrual health but Boswell covers issues like "free bleeding" and reproductive health for black women, along with content that advocates for African American maternity health and parenting resources. She's even hosted a "Period Party" in Atlanta last month as an "educational celebration on period health, fibroid prevention, and natural family planning." She's used her platform to promote its "Menstrual Drives" where donations of tampons, pads and cups are given to local homeless women. She also sheds light on stories of black women entrepreneurs and innovators who promote healthy living for black women.
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