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The Incredible Bessie Blount

via Smithsonian

In 1952, Bessie Blount boarded a plane from New York to France to give away her life’s work. The 38-year-old inventor planned to hand over to the French military, free of charge, an extraordinary technology that would change lives for disabled veterans of the Second World War: an automatic feeding device. To use it, a person only needed to bite down on a switch, which would deliver a mouthful of food through a spoon-shaped tube.

When asked nearly 60 years later why she had simply given away such a valuable invention, she made it clear that her aim wasn’t money or notoriety—it was making a point about the abilities and contributions of black women. “Forget me,” she said. “It’s what we have contributed to humanity—that as a black female we can do more than nurse their babies and clean their toilets.”

Forget her, however, we cannot. For the second half of her answer has far eclipsed the first: the innovations Blount pioneered on behalf of humanity have marked her indelibly in the historical record. In her long life—she lived to be 95 years old—Blount was a lot of things: nurse, physical therapist, even forensic handwriting expert. But more than anything else, she was an inventor. She dreamed up assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and she constantly reinvented herself, teaching herself how to build new doors when others were closed to her.

Read more about this amazing woman and her extraordinary work.


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