Monthly Archives: August 2014

Two Suffragette registered designs

I was looking through the British registered design entries for 1914, as listed in the patents journal, and found two by the Suffragettes.

They were applied for on the 24 November 1914 by the East London Federation of Suffragettes at 400 Old Ford Road, Bow, and were registered as 644045 and 644046. They were registered in Class XVI, which is simply for miscellaneous goods. No title was provided (this was the practice until the 1930s). Hence I had no idea what the designs looked like or were for.

The archives for the British registered designs are in the National Archives (TNA), and there is a leaflet explaining how to search them, How to find a registered design 1839-1991. The big difference between British registered designs and the American Design Patents is that the latter are published as proper documents and can be found, and to some degree searched, online. It is a big shame as the British registered designs are so numerous, in the millions.

I visited the TNA and ordered up BT52/675, which is the box that contains a single sheet for each of these designs. Again no title, just photos of the designs. Each sheet has two photos, of different profiles, and in each case I have taken an image of the top appearance. Here is 644045.


And here is 644046.


We can only guess at their purpose. They are clearly dolls, one female and the other male.

I wonder if they were meant to be used for, say, a mimed play where it is shown that the male doll represents a child who will grow up to be a voter, while for no good reason his sister will grow into a disenfranchised woman ? If anyone has any information about their intended use I would be glad to hear about it. As registered designs were meant to prevent anyone else using a certain look they seem odd things to register — they could have used any dolls for the purpose.

In any case, the Suffragette campaign soon came to a halt. It was decided to call a  truce during World War I, and in 1917 — probably because of the big effort made by so many women in war work, and their substituting in many jobs for men on active service — votes for women over the age of 30 was voted through Parliament, extended to be on a par with men to the age of 21 in 1928.

Maiden surnames of women inventors

The surnames of women are on the whole more likely to change than men (yes, I know some men change their names), if only because of marriage. If the maiden surname is known, it makes identifying them so much easier. American patents rarely indicate marital status. The very occasional “Mrs” appears in the Victorian period, while words like “spinster” are very exceptional.

In British patents, on the other hand, it was fairly common to give some indication until about 1922 when it suddenly ended. Occasionally “wife of” is used, and even the husband’s occupation is sometimes given. Perhaps 25% of the 3,300 entries in my database of British patents with a woman’s name on them to 1899 give some indication of marital status, with “married” and “Mrs” the most common, of course, and some 230 widows, some of whom name their deceased husbands. While we may deplore their “I am an appendage of my husband” attitude, we are at least given useful data to help trace them further in other sources. A small number, perhaps 30, state that they are “nee” their maiden surname, and a handful of widows say the same. They are usually foreign residents, and that is a clue.

Due to legal reasons, I imagine, the maiden surnames of women are much more likely to be given in patents from continental Europe. I use the Espacenet database to find this, normally for about 1900 onwards, as it is almost impossible to trace names before then (the UK is an exception, with coverage beginning in early 1893).

For example, take Bertha Stahlecker of Cannstadt, Germany, who applied in 1910 with her GB1910/01230 for a British patent for a door fastening and signal.  She simply states that she is a married woman. Espacenet can be used to trace three other patents for the same invention — in France, Switzerland and Austria. There is probably a German patent as well but it does not show up as name data is very awkward for Germany. All three give her maiden name as Hoschele, as at the time it was normal for them to give such information, while in the UK it was exceptional. For example, see FR411416 This can also help with British or American inventors if they take out a patent in one of those countries.

Take Harriet Ruth Tracy.  She took out many patents, for sewing machines and elevators, at first in Staten Island and later in England. Espacenet gives 17 patents for her of which only one, French patent 376042 in 1907, states that she is “nee Brisbane”. Her maiden surname enabled me to be sure that the woman in England and that in America was the same woman when I later researched her in the records held by Ancestry . I will write about her in more detail another time.

Girls Coming to Tech!

GIRLS COMING TO TECH! A History of American Engineering Education for Women is the culmination to the research undertaken by Amy Sue Bix, who  Associate Professor in the Department of History at Iowa State University. Beginning in the late 1800s, it covers the years of WWII and up to the present. It is packed with information – hard research and anecdotal evidence. It covers those women, like Emily Roebling, whose husbands might have been taken ill or died, so that their wives had to take over a business. She completed his work on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. There is Edith Griswold who , in 1880, took a course in engineering in New York so she could set up her own company drafting the drawings for patent applications. Then there are all those women who helped with the war effort – as mechanics on the production lines in munitions factories and the qualified engineers who worked on the design of the machines of war. These women included some who worked on the Manhattan Project. Hollywood grabbed and glamorised  Rosie the Riveter’s  image. But immediately after the war women were pushed out of the work roles and all the freedoms, back home, their previous lives deemed unfeminine. Gradually,  women have been accepted onto engineering courses, but even in the 1970s they encountered sexism and discrimination. Some claimed that women’s voices should not be heard in the lab. Even so, about 25% of undergraduate engineers in the USA are women. No doubt it is a similar number in the UK.

GIRLS COMING TO TECH! A History of American Engineering Education for Women.

Amy Sue Bix. MIT Press 2013. ISBN 978-0-262-01954-5 HB. 360pp