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Bessie Virginia Blount

February 19, 2019

The National Society of Black Physicists honors Bessie Virginia Blount. Bessie Blount was a writer, physical therapist, inventor, and forensic scientist.

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

bessie blount

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). 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. 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.

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.

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. 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". 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.

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. 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.

1969, Blount began a second career in law enforcement. Blount began conveying forensic science research for police departments in New Jersey and Virginia. 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. 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.