In honor of Black History Month, we're sharing the accomplishments of African American influential people who made Physical Therapy what it is today.
Theodore “Ted” Corbitt PT, MPT
Physical therapist Ted Corbitt was an Olympian, army veteran, and professor. With a career spanning over 40 years, Ted was truly a master clinician and was one of the most influential voices of the physical therapy profession. Considered the "father of American distance" running, he created the measurement and course certification system. Ted was one of the first physical therapists to teach connective tissue massage, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, progressive resistance exercise, and applied kinesiology, as he studied directly with those who founded the techniques.
Ted fought in World War II and upon his return, became the first African American Olympic marathon runner to represent the United States. His career - both in and out of the clinic - was nothing short of remarkable. To learn more about his career and accomplishments, please visit his website.
Lynda Woodruff PT, PhD
As one of the first two African American students to desegregate a high school in Lynchburg Virginia, Lynda Woodruff had always been a trailblazer in the field of education. Upon completion of her master of physical therapy degree, Lynda became the first African American to join the physical therapy department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She later became the founding director of the physical therapy department at North George State University and established the first DPT program at Alabama State University. In 1978, Lynda joined the faculty at the same University where she had graduated with her Ph.D., Georgia State University. She was later appointed to the Georgia State Board of Physical Therapy, where she served for 10 years.
Lynda was an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association, where she advocated for diversity and inclusion after witnessing how socioeconomic status can impact treatment. She also was a founding member of the APTA Section on Clinical Electrophysiology and received many awards for her leadership.
Bessie Blount Griffin, PT
As the field of physical therapy was developing, Bessie Blount Griffin was already inventing medical devices to help patients eat and drink without the use of their hands. Her interest in physical therapy would be foreshadowed when a teacher struck her knuckles for attempting to write with her left hand. That experience led her to experiment with writing with her teeth and toes just to see if it was possible.
After getting a GED, she studied nursing at Community Kennedy Memorial Hospital and would later study physical therapy at Union Junior College and Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene. With World War II veterans needing physical therapy after sustaining serious injuries and undergoing amputations, Bessie taught her patients the skills she learned as a child with writing with her teeth and feet. Her most famous quote that she would tell her patients was "You're not crippled, only crippled in your mind." In her career, she developed two medical devices and would donate the patents. She would go on to notice the difference in handwriting throughout a patient's physical therapy treatment and become a handwriting analyst in New Jersey.
Mary McKinney Edmonds PT, PhD, FAPTA
Mary McKinney Edmonds PT, PhD, FAPTA had intended on becoming a physician until she attended a lecture on physical therapy that changed the course of her life. After graduating from Spelman College as the valedictorian, she pursued a physical therapy certificate from the University of Wisconsin. She would later go back to school for a master's in health sciences and a PhD in sociology from Case Western Reserve University to learn more about why different patient populations were receiving drastically different plans of care from each other.
She founded the physical therapy program at Cleaveland State University in 1972 and was passionate about creating a program that was based on research and clinical experience. Many of those she taught were first-generation college students, which held great meaning for Mary. She mentored many students, including Lynda Woodruff PT, PhD. She later was named the first African American Dean at Bowling Green State University's College of Health and Community Services where she served for two years before her transition to Vice President of Student Affairs. Throughout her career, she was always motivated to serve the underserved populations who were impacted by healthcare disparities while working to diversify the profession of physical therapy. Her courage and tenacity forged a path for many women and minorities in their pursuit of education and throughout their healthcare careers.