Miriam Benjamin was born in Charleston, South Carolina on September 16, 1861, the eldest of five children born to Francis and Eliza Benjamin. In 1873 the family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where Miriam attended high school. Later Miriam moved to Washington D.C. where she was a schoolteacher in the segregated municipal school system.
In 1888 while living in Washington D.C. Miriam received a patent for an invention called a Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels. Making Miriam the second African-American woman to receive a United States Patent. Her chair as she stated in her patent application would “reduce the expenses of hotels by decreasing the number of waiters and attendants, to add to the convenience and comfort of guest and to obviate the necessity of hand clapping of calling aloud to obtain service.”
By pressing a small button on the back of the chair, a relay signal would be sent to an attendant while a light on the chair would allow the attendant to see which guest pressed the button. The chair was installed in the United States House of Representatives and was the forerunner of those used today on airplanes for flight attendants.
Miriam Benjamin never married. For most of her life she lived with her widowed mother Eliza Jane Benjamin (1840-1934) in the Boston area.
Miriam died in 1947.