Ruth Rogan Benerito

Ruth Rogan Benerito (1916 -2013 ) was a physical chemist who invented wrinkle-resistant cotton. She graduated high school in New Orleans at the age of 14, and then attended Tulane University. She graduated during the Great Depression and taught high school while attending Tulane’s masters program via night classes, and then received her Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1948. In 1950 she married Frank Benerito and began working at the USDA in New Orleans, where she remained for most of her career. She developed a method to deliver fat intravenously to patients too sick to eat, which was put to use immediately during the Korean War. Synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester had been invented in the 1930s and 40s, which resulted in a significant drop in consumer-purchased cotton items (depending on the size of a household, weekly ironing chores would often take up an entire day). Ruth Rogan Benerito attached organic chemicals to cotton fibers (known as “cross-linking”) to invent a cotton that was not only wrinkle resistant, but stain and flame resistant as well. She continued researching cotton, teaching at Tulane, and working for the USDA for many years. She received the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for contribution to textiles and commitment to education when she was 86 years old. She received 55 patents during her lifetime.