Monday, May 13, 2024

Why Did Being Left-Handed Turn Bessie Blount Griffin Into an Inventor and Handwriting Analyst?

Her elementary teacher rapped Bessie Blount Griffin's knuckles when she wrote with her left hand. Bessie's answer: She not only learned to be ambidextrous, but she also learned to write with her feet and her teeth.

Bessie Blount Griffin
If it was wrong to write with her left hand, the child reasoned, it must also be wrong to write with her right hand.

But this experience led to a lifetime of helping disabled people.

Bessie, born in 1914 in Virginia, attended a one-room schoolhouse built after the Civil War for children of former slaves. After sixth grade, she had to educate herself, as no secondary schools in her area accepted black students. She eventually made her way to New Jersey and was admitted to Union College and Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene. She became a nurse and a physical therapist.
Bessie Blount Griffin assisting a disabled
veteran to write with his toes.

Photo: Bessie Blount Griffin Foundation

It was her work as a licensed physiotherapist that led to her becoming an inventor--that and her natural curiosity and determination to help people. While working at Bronx Hospital in New York with World War II veterans who had lost hands on the battlefield, she realized that her own experience could help them. She began teaching them to write with their feet and their teeth. "You're only crippled in your mind," she told them.

Soon, she was experimenting with a feeding device that would allow a person without the use of arms to be more independent. The individual could bite on a tube and have bites of food delivered to his or her mouth. In 1951, she patented a portion of her design, a neck brace that supported a bowl or cup close to the mouth.

Portable Receptacle Support,"
B.V. Griffin, April 24, 1951,
U.S. Pat. No. 2,550,554 
Patent and Trademark Office

Bessie approached the U.S. Veterans Administration with her invention, but they were not interested. Neither was the American Veterans Association. Instead, she donated the rights to the French government, which put it to widespread use in their military hospitals.

Next, Bessie devised a disposable cardboard emesis basin. Since the VA showed no interest in this invention either, she licensed the patent for use in Belgian hospitals, where it remains standard equipment.

Because of her inventions, Bessie was featured on a TV show, The Big Idea, in 1953, becoming the first woman and the first African-American to appear on the show about the latest inventions. According to sources, she was not as interested in making money as she was in helping people. She is quoted as saying she had proved "that a black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind."

Always looking for a new challenge, Bessie began to study handwriting analysis. She noticed her patients' handwriting would change depending on their condition, and she believed there were parallels between a person's physical and emotional well-being and their handwriting.

She specialized in graphology, the analysis of handwriting to profile behavior. A person's signature, she said, is as valid as fingerprints for identifying an individual. Police departments in New Jersey and Virginia hired her to conduct forensic research. In 1977, she became the first African-American woman to train and work in the documents division at Scotland Yard.

When she returned to the U.S., she continued her work as a forensic science consultant into her eighties. She worked with museums and researchers, using handwriting analysis to auth2oth Centicate documents related to slavery, the Civil War, and Native American treaties. Her family reported that she also continued to invent but did not apply for any other patents.

At the age of 94, she visited the site of the schoolhouse she had attended as a child in Virginia. Though it had burned, she wanted to build a museum there to honor the school's legacy. However, Bessie died just a year later, in 2009, before she was able to achieve that goal.

Nevertheless, the legacy of Bessie Blount Griffin lives on in her inventions, her forensic research, and her contributions for the benefit of others.


The Inspirational Story Of Bessie Blount Griffin, The Trailblazing Wartime Physical Therapist and Forensic Scientist, Bessie Blount Griffin, The Pioneering Black Inventor And Nurse (

Bessie Blount Griffin (1914-2009) • (

Hidden Histories: Bessie Blount Griffin – Yale Scientific Magazine

The Woman Who Made a Device to Help Disabled Veterans Feed Themselves—and Gave It Away for Free | Innovation| Smithsonian Magazine

Bessie Blount Griffin: A Black Woman's Journey to Pioneering Forensic Scientist - A&E True Crime (

“Bessie Blount Griffin,” Virginia Inven, accessed May 5, 2024,

Multi-award-winning author Marie Wells Coutu finds beauty in surprising places, like undiscovered treasures, old houses, and gnarly trees. All three books in her Mended Vessels series, contemporary stories based on the lives of biblical women, have won awards in multiple contests. She is currently working on historical romances set in her native western Kentucky in the 1930s and 1940s. Her historical short story, “All That Glitters,” won honorable mention in the 2023 Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest.

Another historical short story tells of a cafe waitress who waits for the love of her life to come back to her after the war. “A Song for Annie” is available free when you sign up for Marie's newsletter
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  1. As a lefty I can relate to Bessie. Thanks for sharing the story of this fascinating woman.

  2. Thank you for posting today about this wonderful woman. I love the ingenuity she displayed.