Women who made legal history: Sarah E. Goode

Sarah Elisabeth Goode (1855?-1905) was one of the first African-American women to receive a patent from the United States government. She was granted a patent for a folding cabinet bed on July 14, 1885. (1)

Goode was born in 1855 (?) in slavery as Sarah Jacobs, but, by 1860, she was living as a free person in Toledo, Ohio. She moved to Chicago in 1870 and, by 1880, was married to Archibald Goode, a carpenter/stair builder. The couple had children, but it's unclear how many.

In order to help Chicago apartment dwellers with limited space in their units, Goode invented a folding bed that would become the precursor to the Murphy Bed - a hide-away bed. It was a cabinet bed which folded into a roll-top desk which had compartments for writing supplies and stationery. (2)

As one author expressed it: " [A] Black woman, Sarah E. Goode, patented a writing desk that unfolded to make a single bed. Goode's invention responded to a late nineteenth-century [Victorian] demand for furniture that served more than one purpose." (3)

In 2012, the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, a science and math-focused high school, was opened in her honor on the south side of Chicago. It is part of the Chicago Public Schools Urban Model High School.

Goode's contributions were also recognized by a 2001 Virginia resolution establishing February 25 as a day to celebrate African-American scientists and inventors. There had been a time when Black Americans were prohibited by law from having their scientific and technological contributions patented. (4)

(1) S.E. Goode, Cabinet Bed (Sarah E. Goode patent), U.S. Patent No. 322, 177 (July 14, 1885).

(2) Amy Essington, "Sarah E. Goode (c. 1855?-1905)," Black Past, November 5, 2020. See also "USPTO Recognizes Inventive Women during Women's History Month," Press Release #02-16 (March 1, 2002). There is also a children's book inspired by Sarah E. Goode's life - Sweet Dreams, Sarah by Vivian Kirkland, and illustrated by Chris Ewald (Creston Books, 2019) as well as an Everyday Black History YouTube episode (July 9, 2018).

(3) Deborah J. Merritt, "Hypatia in the Patent Office: Women Inventors and the Law, 1865-1900," 35 American Journal of Legal History 235, 273-273 (1991).

(4) Senate Joint Resolution No. 377, Ch. 875, 2 Acts of the General Assembly (Virginia) 1627, 1844-1845 (2001 Regular Session).