#mygirlsquad / Black History / Culture

Female inventors: Bessie Blount Griffin

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

By the time she completed sixth grade, she had exhausted the academic resources for black children in her community. The family relocated to New Jersey, and Bessie continued her self-study, earning the equivalent of a GED. She then attended a nurse’s training program at Community Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. The hospital was run for and by African Americans. (It later became the state’s first integrated hospital.)

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During World War II, as part of her work with wounded soldiers, Blount devised an apparatus to help amputees feed themselves. She invented an electronic feeding device in 1951, a feeding tube that delivered one mouthful of food at a time, controlled by biting down on the tube. The American Veterans Administration did not accept her invention, so she sold it to the French government. Blount was once a physical therapist to the mother-in-law of Theodore Edison, son of famed inventor Thomas Edison. She and the younger Edison became close friends and while in his home she invented the disposable cardboard emesis basin. The basin was fashioned out of newspaper, flour and water, which was then baked into a hard form. This invention was also not accepted by the American Veterans Administration, so she sold it to Belgium.

In 1953, Blount appeared on the WCAU Philadelphia television show “The Big Idea”, becoming the 1st African-American and the 1st woman to be given such recognition. On the program, she stated, “A Black woman can invent something for the benefit of human kind.”

In 1969, Blount went into law enforcement as a forensic scientist, at the Vineland Police Department and the Norfolk Police Department. In the mid-1970s, she became the chief document examiner at the Portsmouth Police Department. In 1977, she trained and worked at Scotland Yard in England. She was the first African-American woman to work there. She ran her own business as a forensic science consultant in the 1990s, until age 83, studying slave papers and Civil War documents as well as verifying the authenticity of documents containing Native American-U.S. treaties.

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Griffin was named as one of many notable Virginia Women in History in 2005.


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