In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up is a wonderful mentor text that tells the story of nineteenth-century female inventor Margaret Knight. It examines her life in the context of the Industrial Revolution at a time when “women [didn’t] understand machines” and were relegated to the home. During this time when women’s work often encompassed domestic services, clothing and textile manufacturing, Margaret Knight challenged gender roles and expectations and created innovations that changed the landscape of manufacturing.
The story introduces Mattie, a twelve-year-old girl, who is quite “different from most American girls living in 1850.” Young Mattie is the inventor of a number of practical things including wooden kits, wooden sleds and a life-saving, stop-motion shuttle cover safety device. Unfortunately, the people of Manchester, New Hampshire cannot believe that a woman can construct such creations and Margaret’s inventions are not celebrated, but questioned. In 1868, catapulted by the desire to create a machine that would make flat-bottomed paper bags, Margaret once again innovates. Upon applying for a patent for her invention, Margaret discovers that a man by the name of Charles Annan has stolen her idea. She goes to court. There, Margaret is able to prove the invention is hers by sharing her diary and notebook with the judge and the court. The judge rules that “the patent for the paper-bag machine belongs to Margaret Knight! Her idea is one of simple genius.”
The engaging text, accompanied by pen-and-ink and watercolour illustrations, can be used as an excellent minds-on or introductory activity to a science and technology lesson. The story can be used to spark discussion about the importance of technological, problem-solving skills and knowledge from previous investigations, as well as to design, build and test a structure for a specific purpose. In the Bag! provides students with a great opportunity to see women as intelligent, innovative, strong and assertive.
Margaret’s inventions changed all our lives and we continue to use many of her inventions today. It is critical that powerful, intelligent and inspiring women be represented in our schools and our students see women in powerful and important roles and contexts.
Elena Bukshtinovich is a member of the Simcoe County Occasional Teacher Local.