A forensic scientist, an inventor, and a physical therapist, Bessie Blount Griffin is sadly not commonly recognized as a prominent African figure even though she has made a significant number of contributions to benefiting our world in the realms of injury rehabilitation.
In her early years, Blount attended a one-room segregated school, where she was punished for writing with her left hand. In response to this, Blount taught herself how to write with not only her right hand but also her mouth and feet. Later on in her life, one of the motivators for Blount to pursue physical therapy was the unfortunate event of her father died as a result of injuries he suffered in WWI. After her father’s death, she moved with her mother from Virginia to New Jersey to go to school at Panzar College of Physical Education and Hygiene, where she became a licensed physical therapist.
Blount became close friends with Theodore M. Edison, son of Thomas Alva Edison, and bounced off new innovative ideas with him. Eventually, she created a disposable cardboard emesis basin or kidney dish. This dish is used to hold medical waste and biohazardous material. Before Blount’s invention, emesis basins were made of tin and were reusable. A major problem with the reusable basin is that it posed an increased risk of cross-contamination. Therefore, Blount’s disposable emesis basin was highly desirable. Again, Blount went to the American Veteran’s Association to gain support but was quickly dismissed. As a result, she eventually sold her idea to Belgium. Even today, Blount’s disposable dish is being used widely around the world.
Not only was Blount an influential figure in the world of physical therapy, but she also was a skilled writer. Her talent in writing allowed her to join law enforcement in the 1960s as a forensic scientist, where she worked to detect forged documents. Specifically, she worked with pre-civil war documents and examined the authenticity of slave “papers”. By the 1970s she climbed the ranks to being the chief document examiner in the police department of Portsmouth New Jersey. She continued to work in forensics all the way into her eighties.
“A black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind.”
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