Lyda Newman was born in Ohio around 1885. A hairdresser by trade, Newman lived much of her adult life in New York City.
While she was not the original inventor of the hair brush, Lyda Newman’s improvements to the brush made her a significant contributor to its evolution. Granted a patent for her invention in 1898, brush was the first hairbrush with synthetic bristles (prior to that brushes were made from animal hair, such as boar’s hair). But Newman’s brush also had several other unique innovations.
Most notably, Lyda Newman’s hair brush invention was designed to promote ventilation and provide storage for excess hair or impurities. As noted in Newman’s patent: “The object of the invention is to provide a new and improved hair brush which is simple and durable in construction, very effective when in use, and arranged to permit of conveniently cleaning the brush whenever desired.” Easy access to the bristles also permitted the user to clean them out whenever necessary.
In 1915, Newman was mentioned in local newspapers for her suffrage work. She was one of the organizers of an African-American branch of the Woman Suffrage Party, which was fighting to give women the legal right to vote. Working on behalf of her fellow African-American women in New York, Newman canvassed her neighborhood to raise awareness of the cause and organized suffrage meetings in her voting district. Prominent white suffragists of the Woman Suffrage Party worked with Newman’s group, hoping to bring voting rights to all of New York’s female residents.