More than three million inventions have been patented since they were first registered in 1618 but comparatively few of these have been from women.
Patents specialist at the British Library Stephen van Dulken explained why he thought this might be so in a talk to members at the July meeting.
Mr van Dulken said that until the start of the 20th century women were not allowed to study engineering and so they were unlikely to have had some of the technical skills necessary to design some things. He said that in Victorian times men were considered to be the bread winners and women were expected to be the homemakers.
Even so, some women did invent including the first washing machine and a selection of different corsets. Very often their inventions were patented under their husband’s name instead of theirs.
He said there was a further difficulty in researching the individuals as so many female names actually belonged to men. “There was one person called Doris who turned out to be a man and also Mildred Blakey was male.
“John Wayne’s original name was Marion.”
Many inventions by women were related to their domestic situation. There was one in America in the 1980s for a self cleaning house, several for things to lift long skirts off the ground in the era of horse-drawn vehicles, and other items involving baby care, fashion and cosmetics.
The board game Monopoly was first thought up by a woman Elizabeth Magie but a salesman stole the idea and patented the popular game.
The paper bag was the idea of Margaret Knight, and disposable nappies were thought up by Marion Donovan.
And where would we be without the inspiration of Mary Anderson who thought windscreen wipers might be a good idea.
Mr van Dulken said that only a handful of people ever made money from their inventions. One was Ruth Handler who created the first Barbie doll.
“She listened to her daughter playing with her toys and realised that girls created adult situations for the dolls.
“Her husband, who worked for Mattel toys, did not think it was a good idea, but eventually they employed a rocket engineer to design the doll.
“Since then three billion have been sold.”