Masters, Sybilla

Masters, Sybilla (b. Righton)

(?–1720) inventor, retailer; birthplace unknown, but probably Bermuda. Daughter of a merchant seaman who by about 1690 had an estate on the Delaware River, she married Thomas Masters, a Quaker merchant and public official in Philadelphia (mayor in 1707–08). She raised four children, and although her husband was very prosperous, she took an interest in products and activities around her. About 1712 she went to London where she would receive two patents—in her husband's name but credited to her. The first (1715) was for a device for "cleaning and curing the Indian corn"; the cornmeal was later sold in Philadelphia as "Tuscarora Rice" and promoted as a cure for consumption, but it never caught on. The second patent (1716) was for "a new way of working and staining" the straw and palmetto leaf used in making women's hats. She stayed briefly in London to sell her products but by May 1716 she was back in Philadelphia and her patents were registered in Pennsylvania in 1717. She has been called the first female inventor in America and she certainly showed exceptional commercial enterprise for a woman of her day.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.