Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Method to trap enemy war planes
Blanche Ames' name is familiar to many for her varied accomplishments
as an artist, botanical researcher, and activist. Her truly
pioneering spirit and action-oriented attitude also lead her
to create a number of inventions, adding to her reputation in
the early 20th century as somewhat of "renaissance woman."
Born into a prominent family in Lowell, Massachusetts, on
Feb. 18, 1878, Ames was the daughter of General Adelbert Ames,
a union American Civil War union officer who would later become
Governor of Mississippi, and Blanche Butler, daughter of Benjamin
Butler, who was Governor of Massachusetts and ran for President
in 1884 against Grover Cleveland. Ames was one of six children.
She earned an A.B. degree at Smith College in 1899, where
she also served as class president. In 1900, she married Oakes
Ames (who was unrelated), a botany instructor at Harvard University.
The couple had four children before 1910. Meanwhile, Ames,
a talented artist, published cartoons in favor of women's
suffrage and continuing from her college days, was involved
with the Massachusetts Suffrage Association. She and her husband
built a mansion in North Easton, Massachusetts on land they
called Borderland, where she had an art studio. There she
painted portraits for prominent people in the area, continued
to draw political cartoons for publication, and began illustrating
orchids for her husband to accompany his research.
Ames became very well known for her orchid drawings, producing
hundreds of them over a 50-year span, mainly related to her
husband's research in orchidology. Together, the Ames created
a comprehensive body of research on the Orchidicae class of
plants and also developed the Ames Charts, watercolor-illustrated
charts showing important plants' phylogenetic relationships.
A staunch Republican, Ames was a political activist as well,
an outspoken feminist who worked hard to achieve women's right
to vote and also women's rights to birth control. She co-founded
the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916, a regional
chapter affiliated with Margaret Sanger's national initiative.
Through all of these activities, Ames was an innovator who
was constantly thinking up new devices, processes and policies
that she hoped would make the world a better place. This included
inventing. During World War II she invented and patented a
method for using strings held by balloons at high altitudes
to try and trip up the propellers of enemy planes. The concept
was said to have been demonstrated to military officials at
Borderland, but it came a bit too late and was never actually
used in the war effort.
She also patented a toilet design that she hoped would be
better for the environment. She also developed, with her brother
Adelbert, a scientific method for mixing paints to certain
color specifications. She created a method for cutting hexagonal
shapes in wood. She designed and created plans for many of
the dams and ponds surrounding her home at Borderland, and
even worked on ways to breed a more disease-resistant turkey.
Ames continued to serve in the public eye throughout her
life as well. In 1941, she became a member of the corporation
of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. She was
named president of the board in 1952, and was successful in
securing significant funding for the institution's growth
When she was 80 years old, she wrote the biography of her
father, Adelbert Ames: Broken Oaths and Reconstruction
in Mississippi, 1853-1933. She lived at Borderland until
her death in 1969, at the age of 91. Borderland has since
been turned into a Massachusetts State Park.