Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things
African American Sarah Boone patented an ironing board design in 1892. Her narrow, folding, padded board sported a thin curved shape that afforded the ironing of sleeves and other fitted clothing from the period.
Many other “ironing tables” had been patented before then, however, many of which look more like our modern avatar.
My colleague Arlene Keizer has linked the shape of the ironing board to the shape of the ships that brought Africans to America in the notorious Middle Passage, and she cites a piece by artist Marianetta Porter that combines slave ship and ironing board in a single image.
Keizer writes that this piece “looks back toward the beginning of American slavery but also celebrates the gains for African Americans in the twentieth century made possible by black women’s labor: the board is both slave ship and vehicle of African American enterprise.” (Essay forthcoming in PMLA).
I like Arlene’s positive take on the business model borne by the ironing board, though for some women ironing may be slavery by other means.— Julia Lupton · 2008-10-08