The Pacific Northwest is known for many great things, one of those and arguably the biggest being the Starbucks Coffee chain. Starbucks has grown to become a world renowned and recognizable chain all over the world. Coffee would not have had the same life it has however if it weren’t for a ingenious, tenacious, and brilliant woman to break through her cultural and societal barriers to create.
The nineteenth century in America had a lot of flux and changing societal pressures. One of these changes was the immense growth in the foreign population coming into America. According to a PBS documentary, Destination America, 30 million Europeans migrated into America. With the ever changing society, just in sheer number and kinds of people, there was also a lot of shifting in people’s attitudes. The one group at the forefront of this shift were women. Specifically women who were stay at home mothers that wanted a more impactful role of influence in greater society. The late nineteenth century was filled with women who were being told that the most impactful and important job they had was to be a stay at home mother, however they saw the economy growing and jobs being created. With this all going on around them, women started to desire those new opportunities and see themselves as not just mothers, but financially contributing members of society. During this time, according to Lives of Women, women started to push back against the tight grip patriarchy had by becoming educated through mandatory laws in some states and some women even pushing the boundaries and attending schools of higher education. Women not only started to feel the pressure of the patriarchal society and oppressive traditional roles of men and women, they also started to act and do something about it.
Most of the tools and appliances that women used were around the house, whether they liked being there or not. Many of the machines and tools society has today within the home were present, except in their very primitive form. A woman had the coal stove, they had the butter churns, there were machines to prepare food, all of it was geared toward the woman and trying to make their life easier. However it did not, and that is partly the reason why women wanted a better way, a better life. A Norwegian immigrant, named Gro Svendsen wrote about her observations of women’s domestic duties and she said, “We are told that the women of America have much leisure time but I haven’t yet met any woman who thought so! Here the mistress of the house must do all the work that the cook, the maid and the housekeeper would do in an upper class family at home. Moreover, she must do her work as well as these three together do it in Norway”Housework in the late 19th century. There isn’t any question why women became restless and sought new opportunities outside the home. The women during this time didn’t have proper technology and equipment to do what they needed to around the home and for their families efficiently and productively. The work that was done within the hme was sometimes harder than outside of it. On top of all that, these women worked like dogs chained to their patriarchal husbands and naive children all to be treated like second rate, non human citizens without rights and without a voice. The lack of technology made a woman’s job that much more dreadful to do.
It is well known that women did not have access to education and the same opportunities as men did during this time, but there was certainly progress made. Women started to go against the “Cult of Domesticity” and feel empowered to change societal and cultural norms. Women started to press hard for education, and took advantage of many states declaring that elementary and high school education should be allowed for all. According to a study done on this topic by the National Center for Education Statistics, 120 Years of American Education:A statistical Portrait, by the year 1900, 50.5% of children aged from 5-19 were enrolled in school. Of that surprisingly, 50.9% were little girls who were deciding,, along with their mothers, to become empowered and educated. These people saw the opportunities being opened before them and decided to take them. This trend was not reciprocated however in the realm of higher education. Here women were not allowed at all costs. This was the ultimate leveler for many women and men during the area understood this. Many men couldn’t afford to get some level of higher learning so if a woman were to do so, then she would have more power and influence than him.
The great thing about these statistics is that today, women are taking advantage of every single educational opportunity they can, especially higher education. In the same study as aforementioned, there is a graph on page 65 showing the rate at which higher education enrollment has increased by sex. In the last year reported, 1991, there was a significant gap between men and women with women holding the higher number of students enrolled. The best art is that it is increasing. Today, in Gender Equity in Education according to the US Department of Education, as of June 2012, female students make up 49% of elementary and high school students. However when it come to postsecondary education, females make up a whopping 57% of the student population. This means that women are becoming and are now educated, empowered, influential people. The glass ceiling that patriarchal society tried to put on women has been broken and is continuing to do so. Women feel that they can create careers, lead people, and be able to support their own families as well, if they decide the desire to have a family at all. With the empowerment and education of women, comes the enlightenment of society and the betterment as a whole of the people.
A very influential woman who helped led this charge was a German housewife who immigrated from the country of Germany. This strong and brilliant woman’s name was Melitta Bentz (1873-1950). She invented and patented the modern day filtering process for coffee drinkers, producers, and companies all over the world. This woman was born in Dresden, Germany in 1871 by the name of Amalie Auguste Melitta Liebscher. She was born into a family of successful male businesspeople. She moved to America along with her husband and they enjoyed the married life, well at least as much as she could. Coffee had become a staple in people’s diets by the year 1900. However, the process to make coffee was an ineffective way of doing so that took almost all of the enjoyment out of brewing coffee and drinking it with one’s diet because of the bitter taste and sandy texture the grinds created. Melitta saw that putting grinds in a cloth bag and putting it in hot boiling water wasn’t doing the trick, so one day “on a whim” her company website says, she poked holes in a brass cup with nails from her home. Then took a sheet of paper from her son’s school supplies to line the brass cup. Putting the grinds in the cup with the paper then pouring hot water through it created a coffee that tastes significantly more aromatic, there were no more grounds in the bottom of the cup, and preparation became fast and simple. In 1908 she filed a patent and started her own company which is still in business to this day. (All bibliographic information came from 5 Female Inventors Who Changed Life as We Know It and A Woman Full of Ideas and Drive)
This technological invention and improvement is actually quite simple. The coffee industry, specifically at home coffee machine makerss, have benefited massively from one woman deciding to flex her creative muscles so to speak, and step out to create a new way for her and her family to live a little easier. The technology itself is almost too simple, it brings up the question of what were people thinking before. All it was, was a simple brass cup with some holes and some paper to line the cup with. It seems very primitive compared to today’s coffee machines, however the concept still remains the same. A person puts a lining inside a cup within a coffee maker. Then one puts the grids, the ground up coffee beans, into the cup with the lining. Then a person adds water to the machine which heats it up and flushes it through the cup with the grinds. Then out comes coffee. It isn’t that hard really.
It is important to know how Melitta came up with this invention and process because it speaks volumes to the empowerment of women. She used her ingenuity, creativeness, and observations to make this process happen. Women need to feel empowered to create and add value to society because they do. Women are vital parts of society with more functions than just being a mother or just being a wife. Melitta was able to revolutionize an entire industry and create a company which set her family up with great financial standing for generations to come. She was able to embody the spirit of a woman who changed an industry’s technology because she simply saw a need and filled it. This would have never happened if she had sat by and let the traditional roles of society tell her she couldn’t do this or that it was a man’s job to create. She along with many other influential and revolutionary visionaries stood up and said enough was enough, women will be history makers too.
Murphy, J. (2015, March 10). 5 Female Inventors Who Changed Life As We Know It. Retrieved April 28, 2016, from http://www.biography.com/news/famous-women-inventors-biography
A woman full of ideas and drive. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2016, from https://www.melitta-group.com/en/Biography-of-Melitta-Bentz-187.html
Hartman, D. W. (n.d.). Lives of Women. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.connerprairie.org/Education-Research/Indiana-History-1860-1900/Lives-of-Women
Willis, C. A. (n.d.). Destination America. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/destinationamerica/usim_wn.html
Housework in Late 19th Century America. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/topic_display.cfm?tcid=93
Snyder, T. D. (n.d.). 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93442.pdf
US Department of Education. Gender Equity in Education. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/gender-equity-in-education.pdf