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Born on November 24, 1914, Bessie Blount grew up in the community of Hickory, Virginia. As a child, her father died as a result of injuries suffered during World War I and it would inspire 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 wasn’t ideal so she developed a second portable version for which she received a patent in 1951. After being denied by the U.S. Veterans Administration, Blount turned over her patent rights to the French government for use in military hospitals.
Creativity is often born out of necessity. While attending a one-room segregated school, the story is told that she was punished for writing with her left hand, and in true Black creative genius, she taught herself to write by holding a pencil in her teeth and feet, techniques she later taught to servicemen who had suffered amputations.
Bessie Blount studied at Union County Junior College and later at the Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene to become a registered physical therapist before assisting wounded World War II soldiers.
Bessie Blount was Black Excellence.
Blount reportedly attempted to interest the American Veteran’s Association in these inventions, but she found it difficult to get much support, despite the devices’ potential benefit to thousands of people’s lives. As a Black woman in that time, Blount often entered rooms where her ideas were heard, but not heeded.
She even appeared on a television show called “The Big Idea,” demonstrating her ideas in 1953. As the first woman and the first African American to appear on the program, Blount was making history while she was making history.
She found support in the French government, to whom she eventually donated rights to both her inventions. Bessie Blount was quoted as saying that she had proven “that a Black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind.”