Bessie Blount Griffin

(November 24, 1914–December 30, 2009)
Chesapeake
Inventor

Bessie Blount Griffin (November 24, 1914–December 30, 2009) was born in the community of Hickory, in Princess Anne County (later the city of Chesapeake), where she attended a one-room segregated school. After being punished for writing with her left hand, she taught herself to write by holding a pencil in her teeth and feet, techniques she later taught to servicemen who had suffered amputations. Her father died as a result of injuries suffered during World War I and she moved with her mother to New Jersey during the 1920s. She studied at Union County Junior College and later at the Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene and became a registered physical therapist.

Bessie Blount, as she was known even after her marriage, worked with wounded soldiers during World War II, which led her to invent an apparatus that enabled amputees to feed themselves. Her first electronic device delivered one mouthful of food at a time, but its size was impractical so she developed a portable version for which she received a patent in 1951. The U.S. Veterans Administration had no interest in manufacturing it and Blount turned over her patent rights to the French government for use in military hospitals.

In addition to her medical career, Blount wrote columns published in African American newspapers and in the 1960s she began working in law enforcement as a forensic scientist detecting forged documents. She worked with the police departments in Vineland, New Jersey, and in Norfolk. In the 1970s she became the chief document examiner at the police department in neighboring Portsmouth. She trained and worked at Scotland Yard in 1977, reportedly the first African American woman to do so. Bessie Blount continued to operate as a forensic science consultant into her eighties, verifying the authenticity of documents related to slavery, the Civil War, and Native American treaties with the United States.