Bessie Blount Griffin

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

Bessie Blount Griffin
Born(1914-11-24)24 November 1914
Hickory, Virginia, US
Died30 December 2009(2009-12-30) (aged 95)
Alma materPanzer College, physical therapy; Community Kennedy Memorial Hospital, nursing
Known forAssistive devices
Scientific career
FieldsInventor, Physical Therapist and Nurse

Early lifeEdit

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]

EducationEdit

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 careerEdit

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 had lost the ability to use their hands, new ways to perform everyday tasks by substituting the use of their teeth and feet. As she worked each day, Blount observed that one of the biggest challenges for amputees was eating without assistance from other people. A crucial task for many was to relearn the ability to feed themselves. Regaining this skill would restore a degree of independence and increase their self esteem.[3]

Inventions - assistive devicesEdit

While working at the Bronx Hospital in New York, Blount invented an electric self-feeding apparatus for amputees. The device had a tube to transport individual bites of food to the patient's mouth. All the patient would simply bite down on the tube and then the food would dispense to the mouthpiece from the attached machine that would dispense the next portion of food to the patients' mouth when prompted.[3] A part of the device was patented in 1948.[4] The American Veterans Administration (VA) declined Blount's invention, so in 1952 she licensed it freely to the French government. She remarked in an interview with the Afro-American that her accomplishment showed that "a colored woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind" [5] She also devised a neck frame for an injured or ill patient, that holds a bowl or cup close to their face as a "portable receptacle support" and in April 1951, Blount was granted U.S. Patent 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 that time she invented the emesis basin.[6] The basin was a kidney shaped disposable cardboard dish made out of flour, water, and newspaper that was baked until the material was hard.[7] 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 used in Belgian hospitals.[2]

Forensic science careerEdit

In 1969, Blount embarked on a second career, in law enforcement, pursuing forensic science research for police departments in New Jersey and Virginia.[3] During her previous patient therapy, while demonstrating ambidextrous functions, or writing with teeth or feet, she had begun to see a correlation between physical health and writing characteristics. From her observations, she saw how a person's handwriting reflected their state of health. This discovery inspired her to publish a technical paper on "medical graphology." After the publication of the paper, Blount's career in forensics quickly grew. By the late 1960s she was assisting police departments in Norfolk, VA and Vineland, New Jersey, and later joined the Portsmouth, Virginia police department as a chief examiner. In 1977,the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) Forensic Science Laboratory invited Blount to join them in London for advanced studies in graphology.[2] On returning, Blount started a consulting business, using her forensic experience to examine documents and slave papers from the pre-civil war. Blount operated that business until the age of 83.[3]

Media appearancesEdit

Blount made numerous attempts to interest the VA in her inventions but they declined, despite the devices' evident beneficial impact. To promote the inventions, she appeared on the WCAU Philadelphia television show The Big Idea in 1953. Blount was the first African-American woman to be on the show. No transcript is available, but it is reported she repeated that she had proved "A black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind."[3]

Blount wrote a featured column for the African-American newspapers, the N.J. Herald News and the Philadelphia Independent.[8]

In 2008 she undertook, but was unable to complete one more project: founding a museum on the grounds of her old Virginia schoolhouse which had burned down, to commemorate the contributions of those who had studied there. [4]

Honors and awardsEdit

Blount was honored in 1992 by The American Academy of Physical Therapy, an African American focused physical therapy organization.[citation needed]

Virginia Women in History in 2005.[9]

Personal LifeEdit

In 1951, Blount married Thomas Griffin. They had one son, Philip.[10]

DeathEdit

Blount died at the age of 95 on December 30, 2009, at her home in Newfield, New Jersey.[11]

ReferencesEdit

  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 "Overlooked No More: Bessie Blount, Nurse, Wartime Inventor and Handwriting Expert". The New York Times. 2019-03-27. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  5. ^ McNeil, Leila, "The Woman Who Made a Device to Help Disabled Veterans Feed Themselves—and Gave It Away for Free", Smithsonian magazine, 2018-10-17, Retrieved 2020-04-14
  6. ^ inventions, Mary Bellis Inventions Expert Mary Bellis covered; films, inventors for ThoughtCo for 18 years She is known for her independent; documentaries; Alex, including one about; Bellis, er Graham Bell our editorial process Mary. "Biography of Bessie Blount, American Inventor". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  7. ^ Colt, Samuel (2008). Inventors and inventions. New York: Marshall Cavendish. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-7614-7764-8.
  8. ^ "[Women's History Month] Meet Bessie Blount Griffin, inventor of electronic feeding tube". Face2Face Africa. 2018-03-03. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  9. ^ "Virginia Women in History Past Honorees". www.lva.virginia.gov. Retrieved 2010-01-05.
  10. ^ Baker, Benjamin (2018-09-22). "Bessie Blount Griffin (1914-2009)". Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  11. ^ "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."