I love it when things in my life seem to “magically” come together, don’t you? That kind of experience always makes me feel like I’m on the right track, which energizes and excites me. Well, I had one of those moments late yesterday afternoon while doing research for a new curriculum resource I’m developing. I’m calling the new resource FACS From STEM to Earn, Engineering Our Future, the emphasis of which will be the engineering component of STEM in the FACS curriculum. Through this research, I have discovered all of these remarkable women engineers who have accomplished so much in FACS-related areas and I’m so excited to recognize them for their work. Many of them will be featured in FACS From STEM to Earn, of course, but then it dawned on me that March is Women’s History Month! I don’t have to wait to share my excitement about these amazing women! I can begin spotlighting their achievements now through this blog! So today begins my personal tribute to these great women who have left an indelible mark on FACS and the fabric of American life. I hope you will share this information with your FACS students, because our young girls and women are in desperate need of some really smart, successful role models!
I’d like to begin this series by spotlighting three women engineers who worked in the field of clothing and textiles. You might not recognize their names but you will surely appreciate their contribution to this foundational FACS content area.
Helen Augusta Blanchard
Helen Augusta Blanchard was one of the greatest inventors of the industrial era. She was often referred to as “Lady Edison”. She held 28 patents, 22 of which had something to do with sewing machines. She was born in 1840 to a wealthy family from Maine. When her family lost their fortune, her mechanical skills came in handy. She filed her first patent for her most famous zigzag sewing machine in 1873. This zigzag stitch sealed the raw edges of the seam, which made garments sturdier. The prototype for that machine is now on display at the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Other remarkable inventions by Ms. Blanchard are self-taking needles and a surgical needle.
Ellen Curtis Demorest
Ellen Curtis Demorest was a true nineteenth-century Renaissance woman. Not only was she stylish and smart, she was also sassy, progressive, and truly committed to women’s empowerment. Ellen didn’t invent the concept of a sewing pattern, but she transformed it from something only available to tailors into the modern mass-produced paper pattern we use today. Trained as a dressmaker and milliner, Ellen opened up a millinery shop in Saratoga Springs, New York. The success of that business emboldened her to move to Brooklyn where she met and married William Demorest, a successful dry goods merchant. Ellen worked in the family dry goods business which produced the first commercially available paper pattern in 1854. Her patterns were first sold through stylish periodicals like Godey’s Lady’s Book. Ellen and William eventually published the quarterly magazine Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions to promote and distribute their patterns.
Mary Brooks Picken
Mary Brooks Picken was born on August 6, 1886 in Arcadia, Kansas. Not much of her early life was documented, but what is known is that from an early age she had a knack for sewing. Mary moved to Kansas City to study fashion and after that moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where she founded The Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in 1816. Similar to online schools of today, the institute was a correspondence school that offered classroom instructions in dressmaking, millinery, cooking, fashion design, beauty and homemaking. The school’s enrollment reached 300,000 at one point, becoming the largest school in history solely dedicated to the education of women. The school offered an affordable option that allowed women to immediately generate income after graduation during a period in history when women couldn’t vote and less than 10 percent of women worked outside the home.
I’d love to hear from you, our FACS friends! Who are the women who inspire you?