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Black History Month #20 - Sarah Boone's Modern Ironing Board

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Sarah Boone's patent drawings. Courtesy National Archives

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

By Rachel L. Swarns, Darcy Eveleigh, and Damien Cave

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Hello. I read an article recently about "10 Black Inventors" and I was really enjoying it until it came to Sarah Boone and I saw the photo...which is NOT Sarah but Edmonia Lewis, a prolific artist. I know this because I am an art professor. Then, I wondered where the image came from, and I found you all. So, much like the writer of the article on Black inventors, the image of Sarah Boone was NOT properly fact-checked and unfortunately, I see this trend often on the internet when it comes to Black people prior to modern times: people just find a photo, post it as someone else, then go with it thinking no one will notice. I don't know…

Replying to

Dear Ms. Glenn,

Thank you so much for bringing this error to our attention. It’s inexcusable that we misidentified Sarah Boone, but I assure you it was not intentional. The Museum has only two employees - myself, the Director, and our part-time Education and Volunteer Coordinator and both of us work very hard to present accurate information to our audiences, which we obviously failed to do this time! I couldn't verify the source of another image of Sarah Boone that appears frequently in image searches, so I replaced our incorrect image with her patent drawing. The drawing is from the National Archives. The updated post is here:

After I corrected our blog post, I clicked on the link you…

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