Mary (Dixon) Kies
America's First Female Patent Holder
Researched by Members of the Killingly Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc.
Mary (Dixon) Kies was of Irish descent, her father being John Dixon born in 1679 in the Province of Ulster, in the North of Ireland, according to the Dixon genealogy. Her mother was Janet Kennedy who was the third wife of John Dixon and they were married in Voluntown, CT, August 7, 1741. It would appear that John Dixon was mainly a farmer, as were most of the settlers.
Mary Dixon was born in South Killingly on March 21, 1752. When Mary Dixon married John Kee/Kies, she was the widow of Isaac Pike, and had a son Isaac Pike according to the Dixon genealogy. Her husband, John Kies, died on August 18, 1813 in his 63 rd year. Mrs. Kies went to live with her son, Daniel, in Brooklyn, until her death at the age of 85 in 1837.
According to historical records, Mrs. Kies was the inventor of a “new and useful improvement in weaving straw with silk or thread. For this invention Mrs. Kies received a patent on May 5, 1809, signed by President James A. Madison, the first ever issued to an American woman. The president’s wife, Dolly Madison, was so pleased by this that she wrote a complimentary note to Mrs. Kies.
Mrs. Kies’ invention came only two years after one of the earliest cotton yarn mills in Connecticut opened in Killingly. Mrs. Kies, however, was unable to make a commercial success of the straw-weaving process, despite the fact that her son, Daniel, and numerous friends invested a good deal of capital in the venture. The experiments were ended by a sudden change in the fashions of the day that made the process valueless.
Two samples of the straw fabric covered by the patent and woven by Mrs. Kies can still be seen at the Bugbee Memorial Library (they are now in the Danielson Public Library) of Danielson, donated by a great-granddaughter, Miss Delia Taylor of Providence, RI. There are other samples on display also in the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, CT.
From an article in “The Windham County Transcript” of 1965: “Records say that Mrs. Kies died a pauper, and for the last 128 years her grave has been marked only by an uninscribed field stone.
“When Grange Master Mervin Whipple and members of Killingly Grange No. 112 learned of this, they decided to pay proper respects to the unusual woman by erecting on her grave a suitable headstone. A monument now stands in the Old South Killingly cemetery in the memory of Mrs. Mary Dixon Kies, the first woman in the United States to apply for and receive a patent.
The stone and its engraving were paid for with the money from the local grange, earned by the members after they agreed to restore and maintain all of the 70-odd old cemeteries in Killingly. They are paid $1.25 an hour for their labor from a cemetery restoration fund established by the late Almond Paine of Killingly, and the money earned goes back into a grange fund.”