Updated: Oct 17, 2022
This blog post was updated with corrected information 10/17/22.
Did you know that our modern-day ironing board was invented by a Black woman who'd been born in 1832 to enslaved parents in North Carolina? Prior to the Civil War, Sarah Boone, her husband, children and widowed mother migrated to New Haven, Connecticut utilizing a network tied to the Underground Railroad. Boone became a dressmaker and her husband was a bricklayer, until his death in the mid-1870s. Boone realized that she needed a way to press the sleeves and bodices of ladies' clothes, so she applied for and received a patent in 1892, making her one of the first African American women to receive one. Her patent significantly improved the design of previous ironing boards. In the 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."
Prior to this, many women, and women in poorer circumstances, used a board supported by two chairs. Her addition of a padded surface and a smaller rounded end helped ironing become much more efficient.
Learn more about her here:
Please note: the original version of this blog was accompanied by a photograph of a Black woman standing beside a table with an iron on it. We mistakenly identified her as Sarah Boone. She is NOT Sarah Boone. Her name is Edmonia Lewis, an African American artist. We have updated this blog post and replaced the photo we initially included with an image of Sarah Boone's patent drawing from the National Archives. We deeply regret the error and will be sure to verify images and information that we publish in the future. Many thanks to Erin Smith Glenn, Associate Professor of Art at Central State University in Ohio for bringing this error to our attention.
The misidentification of Black individuals, which we ourselves were guilty of in this instance, happens much too frequently and we, as historians, must do a better job going forward. Click below to read more about this and other issues related to inequities in the photographic documentation of Black lives.
By Matt Herbison