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.

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