Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields. (https://womenshistorymonth.gov/about/)
Thank you to all the women, past, present and future who have contributed to and continue to contribute our community.
This month we celebrate the legacy of Thomas Jennings.
In 1821, Thomas Jennings patented a method for removing dirt and grease from clothing that would lead to today’s dry cleaning industry. Jennings invented a process called ‘dry scouring,’ a forerunner of modern dry cleaning. He patented the process in 1821, making him likely the first black person in America to receive a patent.
According to The Inventive Spirit of African-Americans by Patricia Carter Sluby, Jennings started out as an apprentice to a prominent New York tailor. Later, he opened what would become a large and successful clothing shop in Lower Manhattan. He secured a patent for his “dry scouring” method of removing dirt and grease from clothing in 1821, when he was 29 years old. An item in the New York Gazette from March 13 of that year announces Jennings’ success in patenting a method of “Dry Scouring Clothes, and Woolen Fabrics in general, so that they keep their original shape, and have the polish and appearance of new.”
A Hidden Patent
We’ll never know exactly what the scouring method involved. The patent is one of the so-called “X-patents,” a group of 10,000 or so patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between its creation in 1790 and 1836, when a fire began in Washington’s Blodget’s Hotel, where the patents were being temporarily stored while a new facility was being built. There was a fire station next door to the facility, but it was winter and the firefighters’ leather hoses had cracked in the cold.
Before the fire, patents weren’t numbered, just catalogued by their name and issue date. After the fire, the Patent Office (as it was called then) began numbering patents. Any copies of the burned patents that were obtained from the inventors were given a number as well, ending in ‘X’ to mark them as part of the destroyed batch. As of 2004, about 2,800 of the X-patents have been recovered. Jennings’ is not one of them.
Sluby writes that Jennings’ was so proud of his patent letter, which was signed by Secretary of State—and later president—John Quincy Adams, he hung it in a gilded frame over his bed. Much of his apparently substantial earnings from the invention went towards the fight for abolition. He would go on to found or support a number of charities and legal aid societies, as well as Freedom’s Journal, the first black-owned newspaper in America, and the influential Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
A Lasting Legacy
All of Jennings’ children were educated and became successful in their careers and prominent in the abolition movement. His daughter Elizabeth, a schoolteacher, rose to national attention in 1854 when she boarded a whites-only horse-drawn streetcar in New York and refused to get off, hanging on to the window frame when the conductor tried to toss her out. A letter she wrote about the incident was published in several abolitionist papers, and her father hired a lawyer to fight the streetcar company. The case was successful; the judge ruled that it was unlawful to eject black people from public transportation so long as they were “sober, well behaved, and free from disease.” The lawyer was a young Chester A. Arthur, who would go on to become president in 1881.
So the next time you pick up your clothes at Dri Clean Depot, send a “thank you” to the memory of Thomas Jennings.
Dri Clean Depot is now under new management and ready to provide a solution to all your dry cleaning, shoe repair and tailoring needs. Dri Clean Depot is a black-owned business and passionate about supporting the communities in which we serve. We have opened a new store in Harlem, NYC and currently launching a new store in Fairfield County, CT. Dri Clean Depot offers a wash and fold service and FREE pick up and delivery options. Browse all our dry cleaning services here.
SAVING YOUR BELOVED GARMENTS
In a climate of sustainability, we believe in less waste in clothing and laundry services. We also appreciate the love and memories we associate with certain items of clothing or shoe wear. Dry cleaning ensures your garments are kept for longer, decreasing waste in throwing clothes away and supports you in holding onto those key favorites. Our shoe repair and cleaning services ensure those favorite heels, brogues, sneakers and even UGGS are kept for longer. Need a suit repaired, holes mended, buttons or zippers replaced? We can repair all of these with our expert tailoring services.
WE LOOK FORWARD TO WELCOMING IN YOU IN!
Dri Clean Depot serves the five boroughs as well as North Jersey and now Fairfield County in Connecticut. Simply book your pick and delivery online or visit us in store. New customers can enjoy a range of discounts too! Look out for our next blog post!
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