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10 Great Things Invented by Working Moms

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These brilliant women revolutionized the fields of rocket science, medicine, and home coffee brewing—all on top of raising families. Here are 10 inspiring moms whose inventions are worth recognizing.

1. THE HAMMER-BASED CORN MILL // SYBILLA MASTERS

The first British patent granted to an American colonist—male or female—was secured for Sybilla Masters's improved corn mill in 1715. Originally Sybilla Righton, she married the wealthy Philadelphia merchant Thomas Masters around 1695. The pair had seven children together, four of whom survived into adulthood. In between her mothering duties, Sybilla found time to work on her own passion projects.

Her first major invention was a new type of corn mill that used hammers instead of wheels to break up maize into a product she dubbed "Tuscarora Rice." In 1712, she left her family in the colonies and journeyed across the Atlantic to request a patent from the English courts (at the time, though the other colonies approved patents, Pennsylvania didn't). While awaiting approval, she applied for a second patent—this time for her method of weaving fabric for hats and bonnets out of palmetto and straw. It took a few years, but her inventions were eventually recognized by the crown. While Sybilla was credited by name in the documents, her husband, Thomas, was made the official patent-holder. In London, Sybilla opened her own shop and sold apparel made from her fabric. Back in the colonies, she built a mill with her husband that used her special grinding method.

2. MARINE SIGNAL FLARES // MARTHA COSTON

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tragedy struck Martha Coston’s life at age 21: After the death of her husband, she found herself a single mother of four with few options for supporting her family. Rather than giving in to her circumstances, she found the inspiration to invent a system of signal flares. Her husband had started designing flares that could be seen from long distances at sea before he passed away, but his designs were unworkable. Coston reimagined the concept by borrowing technology from fireworks displays. She received the patent for her "pyrotechnic night signals" in 1859. During the Civil War, her invention helped save the lives of an untold number of shipwrecked sailors.

3. PAPER COFFEE FILTERS // MELITTA BENTZ

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Coffee-lovers have a German housewife to thank for their grit-free cups of joe. Melitta Bentz filed a patent for a paper, disposable coffee filter in 1908. She came up with her filter after piercing holes in the bottom of a brass coffee pot and lining it with a piece of blotting paper from her son’s school notebook to catch the grounds. Prior to her invention, the only ways to get one's morning coffee fix were to make it unfiltered and scoop out the grounds, use a cloth filter and wash it after each use, or to use a brewing method that left a bitter brew—all methods which were messy and a daily hassle. After receiving her patent, Bentz began selling the filters out of a shop in Dresden with her husband and two sons. The coffee filter company Melitta still bears her name today.

4. CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES // RUTH WAKEFIELD

Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

The chocolate chip cookie is so deeply embedded in American culture that it’s hard to imagine a time without them. But the confection is a fairly recent invention; it emerged from the kitchen of Ruth Wakefield in 1938. After graduating from the Framingham State Normal School Department of Household Arts in 1924, Wakefield pursued work as a dietitian and gave lectures on food. In 1930, with a toddler at home, Ruth Wakefield and her husband, Kenneth, opened the Tollhouse Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. For decades, the couple ran what became one of the most popular restaurants in the state. But it was in 1938 that Wakefield created the recipe that earned her a spot in the history books.

Many urban legends surround the creation of the first chocolate chip cookies—from a story of Ruth swapping chocolate chunks for nuts at the last minute to one of a haywire mixer spilling morsels into her dough. But according to several newspaper interviews reported by Slate, the decision to bake chocolate bits into her cookies was entirely deliberate. Though the true origin story may be less interesting than the legends, it makes her stroke of genius that much more impressive. What’s less inspiring is what happened to the recipe after it was concocted; the following year she sold the cookies and the Toll House name to Nestle for a dollar, which she was apparently never actually paid.

5. DISPOSABLE DIAPERS // MARION DONOVAN

Marion Donovan made life a lot easier for generations of parents when she revolutionized the diaper industry. By 1946, the 29-year-old former Vogue beauty editor was a Connecticut housewife and a mother of two. The cloth diapers that were ubiquitous at the time were messy, and while rubber baby pants locked in moisture, they also left nasty rashes. Exasperated with what was available, Donovan set to work creating a waterproof diaper cover on her own. The "boater" was made from nylon parachute cloth, and it kept cloth diapers from leaking without irritating babies' sensitive skin. Consumers were smitten, and in 1951 she received a patent for the invention. Her next idea was even more innovative: diapers made from durable, absorbent paper that were intended to be thrown away. After struggling for years to convince the male executives she met with that her product was useful, the idea was taken up by Victor Mills, who used the concept to found Pampers.

6. LIQUID PAPER // BETTE NESMITH GRAHAM

Bette Nesmith Graham was a single mom working as an executive secretary when she invented the answer to the typo. Prior to the age of autocorrect, setting copy correctly on the first try was essential to a typist’s job. But for Graham, that was easier said than done. She came up with a solution to her sloppy typing habits after observing a man painting a sign in a storefront one day. Whenever he made a mistake she noticed he'd cover up the blooper with the same paint he used for the background coat.

Feeling inspired, Graham went home to recreate the scene on a smaller scale. She ended up creating "Mistake Out," a white, water-based tempera paint solution that matched the color of paper. She started out bottling the stuff in her garage with her son (and future Monkees musician), Michael Nesmith. After changing the name to Liquid Paper, her invention grew into a patented enterprise. Despite her success as an entrepreneur, she didn’t quit her secretary job—though she was eventually fired for accidentally typing the name of her own business in a company memo.

7. A TOOL THAT REMOVES CATARACTS // PATRICIA BATH

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After winning several science awards as a high school student, Patricia Bath went on to receive her B.A. from Hunter College in Manhattan in 1964. In 1968, she earned her medical degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. then returned to New York for further training. Bath became the first black ophthalmology resident at New York University in the early 1970s and had a daughter while finishing off her residency. But Bath's invention of the Laserphaco Probe a decade later was ahead of its time—the tiny surgical device used lasers to disintegrate cataracts from within the eyes of patients, helping to fix a major public health problem. Bath was also the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent for her device and procedure.

8. A SATELLITE PROPULSION SYSTEM // YVONNE BRILL

Win McNamee/Getty

Yvonne Brill’s vital contribution to NASA is still used by the space flight industry today. Born in 1924 outside Winnipeg, Canada, she was the youngest of three children raised by Belgian immigrants. She moved to California when she learned that the University of Manitoba wouldn't allow women in the engineering department, and she actively pursued a career in rocket science. A few jobs, one marriage, and three kids later, Brill came up with an invention that would forever change space travel. What her "hydrazine resistojet" essentially did was keep satellites from drifting out of orbit without using up inefficient amounts of propellant, and the technology has since been used by numerous top companies, like GE and RCA, to keep their own satellites in orbit. The achievement earned Brill the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011.

9. ADVANCED TELECOMMUNICATIONS TECH // SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON

World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson has been shattering barriers her whole life. She entered MIT in 1964 as one of just 30 women in her class, and in 1973 she was the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from the institution. She did some of her most groundbreaking work while working as a theoretical physicist for AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. During the late 1970s and '80s, around the same time she had her son, the research she did led to developments in making portable fax machines, touch-tone telephones, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind call waiting and caller ID.

10. A BETTER BABY WRAP // ELLE ROWLEY

Motherhood inspired Elle Rowley to invent the product that would change her life. Lugging around her first child in a traditional baby carrier had left Rowley feeling achy and frustrated. After having her second child, Solomon (Solly for short), she invented a more comfortable alternative in 2011. That product was Solly Baby: a soft, lightweight wrap she designed at home in the hours while her children were asleep. "Having never used another wrap, I honestly didn’t know I’d done anything different than other wraps on the market," Rowley told Mother magazine, "but friends and family quickly told me I had, that mine was much lighter weight, more comfortable, and looked so good that it made it fun to wear." Six years and two more babies later, Solly Baby has blown up into a full-fledged business. Today Rowley lives with her husband and children in San Diego, and she’s also the co-founder of the kids' clothing line ARQ.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

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