‘We hear much of the chivalry of men towards women; But . . . it vanishes like dew before the summer sun when one of us comes into competition with the manly sex.’
Martha J. Coston (1826–1902)
The caption archived with this photo is simple enough: “Beach patrol with Coston Signal, c. 1920s.” What isn’t reported is the interesting history of the signal flares. Martha J. Coston eloped at 16 and married an inventor, the director of the Navy’s pyrotechnic lab. Six years later he died leaving his wife and four children with no means of support. Desperate, she turned to her husband’s notebooks and developed his sketches for a night signaling device. She used a male alias to correspond with pyrotechnics experts, thus avoiding dismissal because of her sex. In 1859 she patented the device under her husband’s name and sold the patent to the U.S. government on the eve of the Civil War. She later established a production company, which only went out of business in the 1980s.