Podcast #23: Bessie Blount & Flo Kennedy

Episode 23 is our first from New York City! It showcases two incredible black women who made major achievements in their fields. First off, journalist Amy Padnani tells us about the nurse, wartime inventor, and handwriting analyst Bessie Blount, followed by researcher Deborah Streahle on the radical feminist lawyer Florynce “Flo” Kennedy. Recorded live at KGB’s Red Room, and produced and presented by Susan Stone in May 2019.

Also available on Soundcloud, Spotify, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Acast.

Show notes & pics:

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A young Bessie Blount, having taught herself to write with her feet and her mouth.

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And here she is passing on that knowledge. Elmira Advertiser, April 24, 1958

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Bessie’s invention, as patented in 1951

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As a handwriting analyst in later life. The Daily Journal

You can read Amy Padnani’s obituary for Bessie Blount in the New York TimesOverlooked section, which Amy herself established. We thoroughly approve of this new initiative.

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And on to Florynce “Flo” Kennedy.

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Early lawyer years, from her book (see below)

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A couple of our favorite pics showing Flo’s confident style

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Flo Kennedy at the N.O.W. march in 1972. Photo by Bettye Lane, courtesy of Schlesinger Library

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For further reading, there’s Kennedy’s autobiography with the great title Color Me Flo. My Hard Life and Good Times. Deborah also highly recommends Sherrie M. Randolph’s Florynce “Flo” Kennedy. The Life of a Black Feminist Radical.

And it looks like there may be a documentary in the works, directed by Keirdra Bahruth.

Our theme music is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon. Special thanks to Molly O’Laughlin Kemper for taking the Dead Ladies Show to New York City… and running with it!

Thanks for listening! We’ll be back with a new episode in June.

Dead Ladies Show NYC #6

Please join me for the sixth edition of the DLS NYC (whaaaatt?!? time flies when you’re giving new life to dead ladies!), on Wednesday, 10 April, from 7:00–9:00pm at the KGB Bar (85 East 4th Street).

This Show brings us a gender-bending actor, a controversial thinker, and a multitalented inventor. Presented by feminist PhD candidate DANIELLE DREES, fearless educator MONICA LEIER, and forward-thinking obituarist AMY PADNANI. Facilitated per usual by your friendly host, MOLLY O’LAUGHLIN KEMPER.

Free admission; please buy a drink or two to ensure the future of DLS NYC at KGB.

Mary Frith

MARY FRITH / MOLL CUTPURSE (circa 1584–1659) is quite possibly the only woman to appear onstage in Shakespeare’s day. She broke the law by dressing as a man and performing in a public theatre when only men were allowed to be actors—and she was, in turn, immortalized in a play, a pulp fiction biography, and hundreds of years of research on gender, sexuality, and why women want to wear pants. In a time when few women had public voices and terms like “genderqueer” were still 400 years in the future, Frith thoroughly confused her contemporaries and loosened up gender a little for the rest of us.

Hannah Arendt

HANNAH ARENDT (1906–1975) was one of the greatest thinkers of her time…OR EVER. Though she studied philosophy, she rejected the title of philosopher and instead described herself as a political theorist, if even that. This nasty woman is best known for her coverage of the Nuremberg Trials and her controversial writing and teaching about concepts including power, violence, evil, and political action.

Bessie Blount Griffin

BESSIE BLOUNT GRIFFIN (1914–2009) was a nurse, wartime inventor and forensic handwriting analyst best known for inventing an early version of the feeding tube. It all started with one remarkable skill she took on as an act of defiance when she was 7: She taught herself to write with her teeth and her toes.

About your presenters:

DANIELLE DREES is a PhD candidate at Columbia University, where she studies performance, feminism, and labor, and a proud member of GWC-UAW 2110, a union for graduate workers.

MONICA LEIER is an educator in Brooklyn and incorporates Arendt’s teachings into her 5th grade History classes.

AMY PADNANI is an obituaries editor at the New York Times and the creator of the “Overlooked” series, which tells the stories of remarkable women (like Bessie) whose death was never noted by the newspaper.