Inventive Women - Part 1

American Women in Innovation and Invention
Lesson Prepared By
Elizabeth L. Maurer
Grade Level
7th
8th
9th
10th
11th
12th
College
Description

Nineteenth-century America was a time of innovation and invention. A youthful and expanding population embraced change and technology, completely transforming daily life by the end of the century. Inventive Women - Part 1 introduces students to the 19th-century Women’s Rights Movement through the topic of women and invention. By focusing on the United States Patent system, it provides a historical context for the 19th-century's Industrial Revolution.

By learning about the US Patent system and the process of invention, students will discover that the patent system spurs economic development by encouraging innovation. Women inventors took part by inventing new technologies, patenting inventions, and marketing their discoveries.

Time

20 minutes. The time does not include the  materials to read before class.

Objective

Students will look at the evolution of a specific technology: the umbrella. They will examine patent drawings as primary sources to learn how patents document the evolution of technology and encourage innovation. Finally, they will learn how women have participated in the patent system.

Students will:

  • Examine an example of technology and use primary source documents to better understand technological innovation and the role of the United States Patent system in encouraging innovation.
  • Learn that US law and society erected barriers to women’s full participation in the economy by restricting their access to education, employment, and the civil court system.
  • Discuss how invention and access to technology was a pathway to women’s equality.
Prerequisites
Procedures

Step 1: Look at the evolution of a specific technology: the umbrella.

Pass out the cocktail parasols. Ask the students to describe how the parasols are constructed and how they function. These parasols are constructed nearly identically to the full-size models introduced into Europe from Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Questions:

  1. How are they constructed?
  2. What are the materials?
  3. Would they be useful in the rain?
  4. How would you adapt them to be useful in the rain?

Step 2:  Compare the original design of the umbrella to modern designs.

Ask students to look at the umbrellas that they brought in. Compare the umbrellas to one another. Notice that there is a wide variety of features in modern umbrellas like size, shape, colors, materials, etc.

Question: How have modern umbrellas improved over the parasols?

Step 3: Explain that the US Patent system was established 1791, after the ratification of the US Constitution.

Under the patent system, an inventor fully describes his or her invention and registers the description with the government. Once it is determined that the invention or innovation is unique, the government grants a patent to the inventor for a period of time. During this period, the inventor—or the person to whom the patent is assigned—has exclusive rights to use or license the technology. After the patent expires, anyone is free to use the invention or innovation for their own purposes.

The umbrella itself was an existing technology in 1791. Therefore, no one was or is allowed to patent the broad concept of an umbrella. They were and are allowed to patent specific innovations.

Questions:

  1. How would you improve umbrella design?
  2. What are some features that you would like to see in a new style of umbrella?

Step 4: Use patent drawings as primary sources to learn how patents document the evolution of technology and encourage innovation. Learn how women have participated in the patent system.

Pass out printed versions of the three PDFs of umbrella innovations. Ask students to read the patent descriptions one at a time. Highlight or circle the aspects of each invention that were new technologies.

Students should see that the three patents were granted to women, one each in 1870, 1921, and 2001.

  1. What were the innovations that these women proposed for the umbrella?
    • Mary Stephens proposed improvements in “neatness of design and economy of finish”.
    • Beulah L. Henry’s umbrella had a removable cover so that someone could change the covers to have different color options.
    • Barbara Carso’s umbrella is disposable and includes a glow stick in the handle.
  2. How will the inventors make money from the invention?

Step 5: Students have read the Inventive Women on-line exhibit and Allgor's "Coverture" article. Discuss the 19th-century system of laws that made it difficult for women, and married women in particular, to participate in the economy.

Discuss the following questions or assign them homework or in-class writing prompts.

Questions:

  1. What does Coverture mean?
    • It meant that married women and underage children (male or female) were represented by the male head of household. A married woman did not have a legal or civil identity separate from her husband. All decisions about property or a household were made by the male head of household.
  2. How did this limit women’s choices?
    • They needed a husband’s permission to enter employment. But, they did not control their own money. Opening a bank account, spending money, or owning property all involve basic legal agreements. (That’s why you are issued a receipt every time you buy something, even with cash. It is a legal transaction.)
  3. Were unmarried women controlled by Coverture?
    • No. Unmarried women had full legal independence. In fact, many female inventors in the 19th century were unmarried.
  4. Was it easy for a woman, either married or unmarried, to be an inventor, patent her invention, and make money from the invention?
    •  No. All women lived in a culture that encouraged women to get married, run households, and raise children. Even though unmarried women had more legal options to take jobs, society disapproved of that choice. The number of jobs and types of jobs open to them were limited and tended to pay less than those for men.
  5. In a society that has few job opportunities open to women, why would being an inventor be an attractive choice?
    • Because inventors are entrepreneurs. Many people who cannot find someone else to give them a job will try to create their own job or business. Entrepreneurs often benefit from having more control.
Assessment / Homework

Step 5 of the lesson may be assigned as writing homework.

Standard

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 6-8

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.3
Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.5
Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7
Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 9-10

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.5
Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7
Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.8
Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 11-12

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 11-12

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9
Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.