Lyda Newman was a remarkable Black female inventor who patented the first hairbrush with synthetic bristles. She is the third Black woman to ever receive a patent. She is also known for her activism in the women’s voting rights movement of the early 20th century.
Lyda Newman was born in Ohio sometime between 1865 and 1885. Little is known of Newman’s personal life because women, especially Black women, were treated with disregard at that time. However, census records show that she spent most of her life living in New York City, working as a hairdresser.
Newman’s decision to improve the design of the hairbrush derived from her own experience as a Black woman and as a hairdresser. She wanted the process of brushing hair to be more hygienic and efficient. Most hairbrushes at the time were made using animal hair, but the material was too soft to effectively treat the thicker texture of African American hair. Newman used synthetic fibers which were more durable and easier to clean. The brush contained evenly spaced rows of bristles with open slots to clear debris away from the hair into a recessed compartment. The back could be opened with a button for cleaning out the compartment. Newman received a patent for her invention on November 15, 1898.
Lyda Newman’s invention changed the hair-care industry by making hairbrushes less expensive and easier to manufacture. She paved the way for two other Black inventors to revolutionize hair-care and create an industry. These women were Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker, known as "Madam C.J. Walker," and Marjorie Joyner.
Beyond inventing, Newman was also recognized for her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century. She was a key organizer of a Black branch of the Woman Suffrage Party, which was trying to give women the legal right to vote.