Bessie Blount Griffin

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Bessie Blount Griffin
Born(1914-11-24)24 November 1914
Hickory, Virginia
Died30 December 2009(2009-12-30) (aged 95)

Bessie Virginia Blount, also known as Bessie Blount Griffin, (November 24, 1914 – December 30, 2009) was a writer, physical therapist, inventor and forensic scientist.[1]

Early life[edit]

Bessie Blount Griffin was born on November 24, 1914. A native of Virginia, Blount was born in the Hickory, Virginia community, in Princess Anne County (now known as the city of Chesapeake).[1]


Blount attended Diggs Chapel Elementary School in Hickory, Virginia, an educational facility built after the Civil War for the opportunity of educational advancement for African American children.[2] While attending Diggs Chapel, Blount's teacher reprimanded her for writing with her left hand by rapping her knuckles, a form of discipline used at the time to teach students proper writing etiquette. Blount took this moment to her advantage, as a challenge to be ambidextrous, among other remarkable skills. Even though her right hand was her primary hand to write with, she still maintained her skill to write with her left hand as well. In addition, she taught herself the skill to be able to write without the use of her hands by holding a pencil with her teeth and feet.[2] After the sixth grade, all of the academic resources that were being offered to African American children in her location, had been depleted, forcing Blount to stop her education. The family then relocated north to New Jersey, where Blount remained self-taught and obtained her GED. She then attended Community Kennedy Memorial Hospital's nurse's program, in Newark, New Jersey.[2] After obtaining her Nursing degree, she continued her education at Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene in East Orange, New Jersey and became a physical therapist.[1]

Physical therapist career[edit]

During her career as a physical therapist, after World War II , many soldiers returned as amputees after being wounded in combat. As a part of Blount's physical therapy exercises, she taught veterans who lost the ability to use their hands new ways to perform everyday tasks by substituting the use of their hands for completing task, to the use their teeth and feet. As she worked each day, Blount observed that one of the biggest challenges for patients in this condition was the task of eating without assistance from other people. It was dire to many that they regain the ability to feed themselves. Gaining this ability would give them their sense of independence back and increase their self esteem.[3]

Inventions - assistive devices[edit]

While working at the Bronx Hospital in New York, Blount invented an electric self-feeding apparatus to help amputees feed themselves. Blount came up with a device that consisted of a tube that transported individual bites of food to the patient's mouth. All the patient would need to do is bite down on the tube and then the food would dispense to the mouthpiece with an attached machine that would dispense the next portion of food to the patients' mouth when prompted.[3] The American Veterans’ Administration declined Blount's invention, therefore, she sold it to the French government instead. She stated that this accomplishment showed "that a black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind" [4] Her next invention was a way for an injured/ill patient to hold something close to their face using a "portable receptacle support." The device hung around a person's neck with an attachment that supported a cup or a bowl. In April 1951, Blount was granted Patent No. 2,550,554.[2] During her career, Blount was a physical therapist to Thomas Edison's son, Theodore Miller Edison. Blount and Edison became close friends. During the time she spent in the Edison's home she invented the emesis basin. The basin was a disposable cardboard model made out of flour, water, and a newspaper that was baked until the material was hard.[4] Once again, the U.S. showed no interest in Blount's invention. She sold the rights to her invention to a company in Belgium. Her design is still being implemented in Belgian hospitals.[2]

Forensic science career[edit]

In 1969, Blount began a second career in law enforcement. Blount began conveying forensic science research for police departments in New Jersey and Virginia.[3] As she worked with previous patients, demonstrating how to be ambidextrous, write with their teeth, or write with their feet, she began to observe the close comparison between physical health and handwriting characteristics. From her point of view, she saw how a person's handwriting reflected upon their state of health. This discovery inspired her to publish a technical paper on "medical graphology." After the publication of her technical paper, Blount's career in forensics took quickly expanded. In the late 1960s she was assisting police departments in Norfolk, VA, Vineland, New Jersey, and later, and then to join the Portsmouth, Virginia police department as a chief examiner later in her career. In 1977,the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory to invited Blount to join them in London for advanced studies in graphology.[2] Later, Blount started her own business, using her forensic experience to examine documents and slave papers from the pre-civil war. Blount operated this business until the age of 83.[3]

Interviews and public appearances[edit]

Blount made numerous attempts to spark the interest of the American Veteran's Association in her inventions, however, they were reluctant, despite the devices' evident beneficial impact that they could have on people's lives. She appeared on the WCAU Philadelphia television show The Big Idea. Blount was the first African-American woman to make an appearance on the show where she demonstrated her ideas. Instead, she donated rights to both her inventions to her supporters of the French government. On the program, she stated, "A Black woman can invent something for the benefit of human kind."[3]

Honors and awards[edit]

Virginia Women in History in 2005.[5]


Blount died at the age of 95 on December 30, 2009, at her home in Newfield, New Jersey.[6]

  1. ^ a b c "Bessie Blount Griffin". Virginia Women in History. Retrieved 2018-04-22.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kelly, Kate (2016-02-11). "Bessie Blount Griffin, Physical Therapist and Inventor - America Comes Alive". America Comes Alive. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Bessie Blount | Electronic Feeding Device". Lemelson-MIT Program. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  4. ^ a b Colt, Samuel (2008). Inventors and inventions. New York: Marshall Cavendish. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-7614-7764-8.
  5. ^ "Virginia Women in History Past Honorees". Retrieved 2010-01-05.
  6. ^ "Obituary: Bessie Griffin", The Star-Ledger, January 8, 2010. Accessed October 16, 2017. "Bessie Griffin, better known as Bessie Blount, died at her Newfield, N.J., home, died on Dec. 30, 2009, at 95 years old."