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Mon, 09.16.1861

Miriam Benjamin, Inventor, and Teacher born

Miriam Benjamin

*Miriam E. Benjamin was born on this date in 1861.  She was a Black school teacher, composer, and inventor.  

Miriam Elizabeth Benjamin was born a free black woman in Charleston, South Carolina, the oldest of five children of Francis Benjamin and Eliza (Hopkins) Benjamin.  In 1873, the Benjamin family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where she attended high school. She moved to Washington, D.C., where she taught in the segregated municipal school system. 1888 she lived at 1736 New York Avenue, N.W., in Washington.  

Benjamin briefly attended Howard University's medical school, but after passing a competitive civil service examination and working as a government clerk in several federal departments, she enrolled in the law school of Howard University; upon graduation, she set herself up in business as a "solicitor of patents."  On July 17, 1888, she obtained U.S. patent 386 289 for her invention, the Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels. The chair would "reduce the expenses of hotels by decreasing the number of waiters and attendants, to add to the convenience and comfort of guests and to obviate the necessity of hand clapping or calling aloud to obtain the services of pages."  The United States House of Representatives eventually adopted the system, and it was a precursor to the signaling system used on airplanes for passengers to seek assistance from flight attendants.  

Some music historians believe she also composed marches under the gender-neutral pseudonym E.B. Miriam. One of these was used by the presidential campaign of Theodore Roosevelt in 1904.  In 1920, she returned to Boston, where she lived and worked with her brother, Boston attorney Edgar P. Benjamin.  Along with Sarah Boone, Ellen Eglin, and Sarah Goode, Benjamin was one of four African American women inventors of her time who developed a new technology for the home. 

Her brother Lyde Wilson Benjamin was a Boston attorney and an inventor; on May 16, 1893, he received U.S. patent no. 497,747 for an improvement on "Broom Moisteners and Bridles."Her younger brother Edgar Pinkerton Benjamin graduated from the Boston University law school and had a successful private practice in Boston. Although best remembered for establishing the Resthaven Nursing Home (now the Benjamin Healthcare Center) in Roxbury, Massachusetts, he also held a U.S. Patent; on May 31, 1892, he was awarded U.S. patent no. 475,749 for a "Trousers-Shield," or a bicycle clip.  

She lived with her widowed mother in the Boston area.  She had four siblings. Her sisters were Charlotte D. "Lottie" Benjamin and Eva S. Benjamin.  Miriam Benjamin died in 1947; she never married.

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