Sarah Boone (1832-1904) was one of the first African American women patent holders and is recognized for the improvements she made to the ironing board in 1892. Boone is one of many Black inventors who encountered an inconvenience in their day to day lives and created a solution that in turn improved the quality of life and work for us today.
In order to achieve such an accomplishment Sarah Boone had to overcome one important obstacle — learning to read. Sarah Boone was born and raised in North Carolina, during a time when it was still illegal for Black people to learn how to read. According to New Haven Independent, Boone was illiterate most of her adult life until she took lessons that enabled her to engineer and document information that led to her patent.
She eventually settled in New Haven, Connecticut with her husband, a brick mason, and eight children. According to New Haven Independent, the Boones moved into a prosperous Black neighborhood along Dixwell Avenue.
Boone made a living as a dressmaker. According to Fashion Timeline History, 19th century women fashion included layered princess line fabrics with snugly fitted bodice and arms. Sarah Boone opened a dress shop and was faced with fierce competition. In order to stand out, Boone created a narrow, curved and rotating board that allowed her to easily slide it through the arm or waist of a garment, thus ensuring her customers a nice press.
Sarah Boone’s version of the ironing board was also padded and collapsible. According to Face2Face Africa, prior to her invention, people used an iron heated over the stove and a table or board balanced on two chairs. Models of her invention could also be made so that the board was not curved, making it more reminiscent of the ironing boards we use today.
Face2Face Africa also reports that in Sarah Boone’s patent application she described that she wanted “to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.”