FYI May 05, 2018


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On This Day

1809 – Mary Kies becomes the first woman awarded a U.S. patent, for a technique of weaving straw with silk and thread.
Mary Dixon Kies (March 21, 1752 – 1837) was an American inventor. On May 5, 1809, her patent for a new technique of weaving straw with silk and thread to make hats was signed by President James Madison.[1] Some sources state that she was the first American woman to receive a patent, however others state that Hannah Slater was the first.[2][3][4][5]

Family life

Mary’s father, John Dixon, was a farmer born in 1679 in Ulster, Ireland. Her mother, Janet Kennedy, was John Dixon’s third wife. They had married in Voluntown, Connecticut on August 7, 1741. Mary Dixon was born in Killingly, Connecticut on March 21, 1752. She married Isaac Pike I, and in 1770 they had a son, Isaac Pike II.[6] After his death she married John Kies (1750–1813) who died on August 18, 1813 at age 63. She then lived with her second son, Daniel Kies, in Brooklyn, New York, until her death at age 85 in 1837.[7]

Because of the Napoleonic Wars, the United States embargoed all trade with France and Great Britain, creating a need for American-made hats to replace European millinery. The straw-weaving industry filled the gap, with over $500,000 ($9 million in today’s money) worth of straw bonnets produced in Massachusetts alone in 1810.[8]

Mary Kies was not the first American woman to innovate in hat-making. In 1798, New Englander Betsy Metcalf invented a method of braiding straw. Her method became very popular, and she employed many women and girls to make her hats. The method created a new industry for girls and women because the straw bonnets could be made at home from local resources, so the women and girls could do work for themselves. Thus, Betsy Metcalf started the American straw-hat industry. Under the Patent Act of 1790 she could have sought a patent, but like most women at the time, who could not legally hold property, she chose not to. Mary Kies, however, broke that pattern on May 5, 1809. Dolley Madison was so pleased by Kies’ innovation that she sent a personal letter applauding her.[9]

Kies’ technique proved valuable in making cost-effective work bonnets. In so doing, she bolstered New England’s hat economy, which had been faltering due to the Embargo Act of 1807. However, a change in the fashion of the day made her unable to profit from her invention and she died penniless in 1837.[7] Her original patent file was destroyed in an 1836 fire at the United States Patent Office.[10]

In 2006, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.[11]

Born On This Day

1900 – Helen Redfield, American geneticist (d. 1988) [1]
Helen Redfield (born May 5, 1900 in Archbold, Ohio,[1] died 1988[2]), was an American geneticist. Redfield graduated from Rice University in 1920,[1] followed by earning her Ph.D. in zoology[1] from the University of California, Berkeley in 1921.[3] While at Rice, she worked in the mathematics department.[1] She joined the faculty of Stanford University in 1925[3] and that same year she became a National Research Fellow at Columbia University.[1][4] In 1926 she married Jack Schultz, the couple would have two children.[1][3][4] Redfield retained her maiden name upon her marriage.[3][4] In 1929 she worked as a teaching fellow at New York University. Ten years later she worked as a geneticist in the Kirchoff Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Starting in 1942, during World War II, she worked as a lab scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory during the summer. From 1951 until 1961 she served as a research associate at the Institute for Cancer Research.[1]

Further reading
Publications by Helen Redfield

“A Comparison of Triploid and Diploid Crossing over for Chromosome II of Drosophila Melanogaster.” Genetics. 17.2 (1932): 137-152.
“Crossing over in the third chromosomes of triploids of Drosophila melano gaster.” Genetics. 15.3 (1930): 205-252.
“Delayed Mating and the Relationship of Recombination to Maternal Age in Drosophila Melanogaster.” Genetics. 53.3 (1966): 593-607.
“Egg Mortality and Interchromosomal Effects on Recombination.” Genetics. 42.6 (1957): 712-728.
with Jack Schultz. “Interchromosomal effects on crossing over in drosophila.” Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biology. 16 (1951): 175-197.
“The maternal inheritance of a sex-limited lethal effect in Drosophila melanogaster.” Genetics. 11.5 (1926): 482-502.
“Recombination Increase due to Heterologous Inversions and the Relation to Cytological Length.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 41.12 (1955): 1084-1091.

Works by others about Redfield
Richmond, Marsha L. “Opportunities for women in early genetics.” Nature Reviews, Genetics. 8.11 (2007): 897-902.



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