The Patent for the First Bra and the Bohemian Lifestyle of the Woman Who Invented It | History Hit

The Patent for the First Bra and the Bohemian Lifestyle of the Woman Who Invented It

History Hit

02 Nov 2018
HISTORYHIT.TV A new online only channel for history lovers

Mary Phelps Jacob, a New York socialite, was dressing for a debutante ball in 1913 when she struck upon an idea that would change women’s lives forever.

Whilst readying herself for the ball, she despaired at the detrimental effect of her bulky whale bone corset on her sleek, low cut evening gown. Determined not to spend another evening in discomfort and with her style impaired, she summoned her maid to bring two handkerchiefs and a length of pink ribbon.

With some help from a needle and thread, the two fashioned a brassiere. At the ball that evening, she was inundated with requests from other women for the new invention.

Why has history persistently ignored or failed to recognise the role of women? In this Spotlight interview with Dan Snow, Mary Beard explores the many ways throughout history that women have been put down or silenced.
Watch Now

Patenting her invention

On 3 November 1914, Mary received the patent for her “Backless Brassiere”. She was not the first to invent a brassiere, as the word entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1911, but Mary’s design set the standard for the modern bra.

Mary began manufacturing the new brassiere but later sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1,500 ($21,000 today) who went on to make millions when the bra gained wider popularity.

Later life

Mary went on to lead a remarkable life, courting scandal and controversy. She married three times, and her second marriage to wealthy Bostonian Harry Crosby began as an illicit affair, which shocked their well-heeled society circle.

After divorcing her first husband and marrying Harry, Mary changed her name to Caresse.

Support of the bosom by a bodice (French: brassière), 1900. Credit: Commons.

The pair founded a publishing house and lived an outrageous, Bohemian lifestyle fuelled by drugs and alcohol, and mixed with the foremost artists and writers of the time.

Their Gatsby-esque existence, and notorious open marriage, ended abruptly with the Wall Street Crash in 1929, after which Harry shot himself and his lover Josephine in a New York apartment.

On May 31, 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was torn apart by one of the worst instances of racialised violence in American history. In a period of great racial tension, the white population in Tulsa went on a rampage through the black neighbourhoods in the city killing innocent people, looting African American businesses and burning whole blocks to the ground. They had been stirred up by a fake news story that wrongly accused a local black man of assaulting a young white woman in a lift. This wave of violence left many homeless, more than a thousand people were injured and over three hundred people were killed. However, this event has been little known as it was covered up with attempts being made to expunge it from the historical record. Thankfully, those attempts failed, and knowledge of this horrific incident has been kept alive by the community, journalists and historians. One of those historians is Scott Elsworth who joins Dan in this episode to shed light on what happened in Tulsa on that terrible day and the ongoing work to deal with the painful legacy of these events.
Listen Now

Caresse married a third time in 1937 and continued to mix with an array of artists, including Salvador Dali. She opened a modern art gallery, wrote pornography and founded various political organisations including Women Against War. She died in Rome in 1970.

Tags: OTD

History Hit

.