Bessie Blount Griffin was an African American forensic scientist, writer, and inventor born in 1914. Her early life opportunities were limited by the rife racism prevalent in America at that time. Blount’s schooling was conducted “at a one-room schoolhouse called Diggs Chapel”
(Maggs) built by “Black members of the local community” (Maggs) for the purpose of educating former slaves, Native Americans and their children. The school had extremely limited resources. Any textbooks were donated from white schools when they could be spared and Blount originally learned to read through quoting the Bible. Discipline was also severe and following an altercation with a teacher for writing with her left hand, Blount in an act of defiance taught herself to write with both hands, feet “and even her teeth” (Maggs). She was soon “kicked out of school in the sixth grade” (Maggs) but was not deterred and continued to receive the GED required to attend college. Her education did not stop there. Alongside her nursing training, Blount studied physical therapy, physiotherapy and industrial design before finally settling “among the Red Cross’s Gray ladies” () at a Veteran’s hospital for rehabilitation. It is here Blount created an invention still used in medical practice today. “’You’re not crippled” she would assure the wounded soldiers of World War II, “only crippled in your mind’” (Maggs) and so taught those with lost limbs to write as she did with their feet and teeth.
For the soldiers with more limited mobility even eating was difficult thus, Blount invented “a kind of electronic feeding tube” (Maggs). The tube worked by attaching “to a food receptacle, which in turn was powered by a motor” (Maggs) and once the patients bit down on the tube “it would send a morsel of food zooming into their mouths” (Maggs). Blount created this using “only plastic, boiling water to mold material, a file, an ice-pick, a hammer and some dishes” (Maggs). The device was so successful, news soon reached the press and Blount offered her invention to Veterans Affair who refused her selling price. The French government were not so quick to refuse and bought her device to use across “military hospitals worldwide” (Maggs).
Blount also created a supportive device that would strap around the neck and hold cups or bowls for soldiers to drink and eat from. She continued on to be come a forensic scientist, write multiple medical papers on “the relationship between a person’s health and handwriting” (Maggs) and became an expert on detecting forgeries before being rejected by the FBI “because of her race” (Maggs). Soon she was accepted at the age of sixty-three to “the document Division of Scotland Yard” (Maggs). The list of her accomplishments continues.
Maggs, Sam, and Sophia Foster-Dimino. Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. Quirk Books, 2016.