Innovating a Legacy
Sarah E. Goode
(1862?, d. 1905)
Sarah Goode is regarded as the first African American woman to obtain a patent. Her invention, a folding cabinet bed, eventually led to the invention of the “Murphy Bed.”
After the Civil War, Goode gained freedom from slavery and moved to Chicago. Marrying a carpenter at age 15, she managed the carpentry shop. Hearing complaints from many of her patrons who lived in small apartments about their desperate need to maximize living space, Goode began working on a design to utilize that space more effectively. She invented a bed that folded up into a cabinet so that it took up less space and could also be used as a functional desk. There is little information about the rest of Goode’s life. Her name is often attached to photos of other women of color. One particular image is attributed to both Goode and another inventor from the turn of the century, Sarah Boone. This image is actually Edmonia Lewis, a famous woman of color sculptor from the same time period. This misidentification of Lewis for two other women of color shows the carelessness with which some people often handle the histories of people of minority groups. After considerable research, I was not able to find a photograph of Goode. This portrait combines photos that are misidentified as Goode as well as the sole description of her light skin, specifically stating that “to the superficial observer [Goode] would appear Spanish or French.”
In 1900, Goode’s idea of conserving space in small apartments influenced William L. Murphy to invent a bed which folds up into the wall.1 These convenient beds can be seen in many apartments in large cities around the world.
1. Hall, Sharon. “Mothers of Invention: Sarah E. Goode (Cabinet Bed).” Digging History, 17 Mar. 2014, digging-history.com/2014/03/17/mothers-of-invention-sarah-e-goode-cabinet-bed/.
2. Kelly, Kate. “Sarah E. Goode, (Ca.1850-1909), Inventor.” America Comes Alive, 17 June 2016, americacomesalive.com/2012/02/08/sarah-e-goode-ca-1850-1909-inventor/.
3. Kirkfield, Vivian. Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor. Creston Books, 2017.
4. “Landlord Surprised on Finding Tenants Colored-Attempts to Evict One and Is Arrested.” Inter Ocean, 9 Mar. 1905. www.newspapers.com/clip/4432435/the_inter_ocean_chicago_9_mar_1905/
5. “Sarah E. Goode.” Clara Barton Museum, 6 Jan. 2016, www.clarabartonmuseum.org/sarahegoode/.