By Elisa Fernández-Arias
When it comes to contributions to the K&B industry, women have played an important, though often overlooked, role — from the dishwasher to the modern electric refrigerator to even the popularity of pastel design colors. These women have created solutions, as big as the modern kitchen and as small but important as the toilet paper holder, that have transformed homes as we know them today. In this article, we’ll look back at the women who have made history in the K&B industry.
Seven Influential Women in Kitchen and Bath
1. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky: The Modern Kitchen
The first female architect in Austria, Margarete Schüte-Lihotzky, was the mind behind The Frankfurt Kitchen, which she came up with when designing a kitchen for a housing project. Designed to reduce women’s labor in the kitchen, it was the world’s first mass-produced and modern kitchen. Since its introduction in the 1920s, it has had an impact on modern kitchen design. If you’ve ever been in a kitchen that had a backlash that’s easy to clean, a window above the sink and well-organized cabinets, this is a kitchen that was directly influenced by The Frankfurt Kitchen.
2. Josephine Cochrane: The Practical Dishwasher
Joseph Cochrane invented the first dishwasher, and while there were dishwashers invented prior, they were not as effective. As a socialite who hosted many visitors, Cochrane had many parties and get-togethers that required washing dishes afterward, so she came up with the idea and mapped out the technology for the practical dishwasher. Compared to other dishwashers that were around at the time, Cochrane’s used water pressure to clean instead of scrubbers that removed debris.
3. Mamie Eisenhower: Popular Pastels
These days, pastels are one of the biggest trends in the K&B industry — if Kohler’s reintroduction of vintage colors at KBIS 2023 is anything to go by. However, the hues aren’t just all the rage today. In the fifties, pastels experienced a boom in popularity, and it was all thanks to the First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower, who was passionate about one pastel in particular: pink. She wore pink, she decorated the private suites in the White House with pink and Ike Eisenhower even knew to send her pink flowers on special occasions.
4. Florence Parpart: The First Electrical Refrigerator
In 1914, Florence Parpart made K&B history by inventing the modern electric refrigerator. After realizing that electricity could be used for the efficient refrigeration of food (as opposed to the simple icebox), Parpart invented a refrigerator attachment that used electricity to circulate water so that it would stay cold. Additionally, she also invented a street sweeping machine, which automated the process used to clean city streets.
5. Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner and Mildred Davidson: The Toilet Paper Holder
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner invented the toilet paper holder with her sister, Mildred Davidson. Raised by a family of inventors, the two sisters created a mechanism that separated part of the toilet paper from the rest of the roll. With five patents, Mary Beatrice holds the record for the most patents awarded to a Black woman by the U.S government.
6. Lilian Gilbreth: Refrigerator Door Shelving, Efficient Spaces and More
Lilian Gilbreth made a huge difference in the kitchen and bath space in a variety of ways during the mid-twentieth century. Glibreth had 12 children, and she was constantly making changes to household items. One of those still used today is the foot pedal trash can, used in many kitchens today to make day-to-day life easier. Gilbreth also introduced a more user-friendly can opener, wall light switches and refrigerator door shelving — but that wasn’t all. As one of the first female engineers to hold a PhD, she worked on studies that applied psychological concepts to enhance the efficiency of homes and workplaces. Among these studies was one that led to the development of the kitchen work triangle concept.
7. Mária Telkes: Solar-Powered Energy Sources
A Hungarian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1924, Mária Telkes was a biophysicist and chemist who teamed up with American architect Eleanor Raymond in 1948 to design the first solar-powered modern home. Called the Dover Sun House, the home used solar power that converted into energy to be used by fans within the home. Even though the project wasn’t considered a success, it helped to demonstrate the importance of energy efficiency.