Enabling Basic Life Functions

Bessie Blount was born in Hickory, Virginia. When she started elementary school, her teacher rapped her hands for writing lefthanded. Bessie had to learn to use her right hand even though her dominant hand was her left one. She also taught herself to write with a pencil in her mouth. Little did she know, her facility at writing would become important to her in later life.

Bessie’s formal education ended in middle school. There were no more resources to teach African American children. Undeterred, Bessie continued to study on her own and earn a GED. She studied nursing at a local hospital and then attended what is now Montclair State University to become a certified physical therapist.

Many of Bessie’s patients were World War II veterans with injuries that kept them from feeding themselves or performing other basic life functions. She taught them to use their mouth and feet to perform some of those basic functions – a trick she had taught herself.

Bessie invented an electric self-feeding device for amputees. She got a patent on the device, but the Veteran’s Administration would not accept it. She then gave the rights to the French. When asked why she didn’t cash in on her invention, she replied she wanted to prove that as black females we can do more than nurse babies and clean toilets.

Bessie went on to invent other devices which made lives easier for those who no longer had full physical capabilities. In most cases, the Veterans Administration rejected the use of patented devices.

At age 55, Bessie began a new career. She found a relationship between fine motor skills and some forms of diseases, especially neurological ones. She created a new analytical approach called medical graphology. Her analysis of handwriting became a vital forensic science tool.

Over time, the race or gender of the inventor has often influenced the acceptance of the innovation. Bessie Blount is one of a number of hidden heroes whose ideas were rejected for no reason other than the race and gender of the inventor. Any change can be difficult, but the race and gender of the inventor should not be a legitimate barrier to the acceptance of change.

Women have been inventors for centuries, but few people could name a woman inventor. Why are so many hidden heroes women and people of color who have made a difference in our society?

* * *

“An invention that is quickly accepted will turn out to be a rather trivial alteration of something that has already existed.”  – Edwin Land (Co-founder of Polaroid Corporation)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.