by C. Edwin Vaughan
From the Editor: Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan is a retired professor of sociology from the University of Missouri--Columbia. He has authored several books and articles on blindness but now spends his time trying to build and strengthen his chapter and affiliate. Here is what he says about the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards presented annually at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind:
The first Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards were presented at the 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Six awards totaling $100,000 were presented to organizations and individuals for their outstanding contributions to the well-being of blind people. Most of us at that convention did not know about Jacob Bolotin before the appearance of his biography, The Blind Doctor. His is a remarkable story, the more so because it was an earlier time in the struggle of blind people to find jobs and to participate in the wider community.
Jacob was born into a low-income Jewish family in Chicago in 1890. He was the last of six children. He, his brother, and one sister were all born blind. By age four he had demonstrated remarkable intelligence and determination. After one year of public school he and his brother Fred were sent to the Illinois School for the Blind at Jackson, Illinois, where he lived from age five until his high school graduation. He was class valedictorian.
After high school he encountered the usual problem—no employment opportunity. He began by selling pencils door to door, and moved up to selling brushes and later typewriters. During his successful time as the leading seller of typewriters in the Midwest, he developed a deep passion for becoming a physician. He saved money sufficient for one year’s tuition at medical school. He was admitted, and his biography describes the many ways he overcame challenges while on route to earning the highest marks in his graduating class. His accomplishments occurred before tape recorders and the many electronic devices we now take for granted. He achieved this before any federal rehabilitation programs, long white canes, guide dog schools, or the National Federation of the Blind.
Bolotin had to volunteer his medical work in tuberculosis clinics because he could obtain no medical position. For an entire year no patients came to his office, and he continued to sell brushes at night to support himself. He would not give up on his dream of becoming a successful physician. Gradually his abilities were recognized, and he became a specialist in diagnosing tuberculosis and other heart and lung disorders. He was widely sought as a consulting physician and a public speaker. In addition to teaching at three medical schools in Chicago, he was invited to speak at hundreds of college graduations, Kiwanis and other civic organization meetings, and medical society conventions. At the expense of his health he accepted these public opportunities to help the public understand the obstacles that blind people and poor people in general face as they seek employment and other opportunities.
He was invited to speak at the International Kiwanis Convention in Toronto in 1922. He particularly enjoyed the steamship trip from Chicago to Toronto, relishing the new experiences of ocean-like waves and the smells and sounds of a ship passing through large bodies of water. While en route he tried writing poetry. It wasn’t great, but many of us can identify with the problems he described:
Kiwanis says, “We build!”
Kiwanians will never shirk.
The blind man wants to help,
But the public won’t let him work.
It’s up to you, Kiwanians,
Don’t sympathize or sob.
Just put your shoulder to the wheel,
And find the blind a job.
More than money, more than fame,
Will be to me the day,
When every sightless, jobless man
Will draw his first week’s pay.
Jacob Bolotin’s greatest talents were not in poetry. However, it appears that he enjoyed expressing some of his philosophy and sentiments in rhyme.
I Do The Best I Can
I don’t always find things easy,
And many times I foil,
When the wind’s too strong one way,
I simply change my soil.
When sorrow strikes or bad luck hits,
I do the best I can,
And when I win the battle,
I’m a stronger, better man.
One of his favorite projects was his effort to develop and lead a Boy Scout troop for blind youth. He led Troop 300, and, as his health began to fail, he asked his brother Fred to take over troop leadership. Fred was also blind, and he led the troop for over twenty years after Jacob’s death.
Jacob could not turn down the large number of speaking requests because they gave him a chance to talk about the difficulties confronting blind people and the difficulties faced by children living in poverty. He gave enormous amounts of energy, sometimes around the clock service, to helping patients during the influenza epidemic of 1919. His demanding work schedule as physician; his work as lecturer in three different medical schools; his work in many public organizations, including his Boy Scout troop; and his extensive public speaking schedule gradually took its toll on his health. After an illness lasting several months, he died peacefully on April 1, 1924. His funeral was attended by more than five thousand people in Chicago, and his life was celebrated in newspapers nationwide.
The Bolotins had no children of their own. Helen’s widowed sister and her son Alfred Perlman moved in with the Bolotins during the last four years of Jacob’s life. Alfred, himself a teenager, became a frequent companion and reader for Dr. Bolotin. Later Alfred Perlman married Rosalind, who in her late years became the author of the book The Blind Doctor, published by Blue Point Books in 2007.
After Alfred Perlman returned from serving overseas in World War II, the couple moved from Chicago to Santa Maria, California, where Alfred taught high school. Rosalind taught speech and drama at Hancock College for the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts. She became a journalist, writing columns for the Santa Maria Times.
Rosalind and Alfred always dreamed of writing a book about Dr. Bolotin to share the story of this amazing man who had devoted the last third of his short life to changing society’s perception of what a blind person could do. Based on Alfred’s vivid memories, those of his Aunt Helen, other friends and family members, as well as media clippings, photos, and other documents, Rosalind wrote many drafts of the book before her husband died in 2001. After Alfred’s death, she devoted the rest of her life to making sure the book was completed. Rosalind died in 2004.
The Perlman estate was given in a trust to the Santa Barbara Foundation. The trust, through this foundation, makes annual awards to individuals and organizations that significantly contribute to enriching the lives of blind people.
The Santa Barbara Foundation is one of the oldest and largest of the more than 700 community foundations in the United States. It is Santa Barbara County's largest private source of funding for nonprofit agencies, having awarded $23 million to area nonprofits and $2.3 million to area students in 2006.
From the Santa Barbara Foundation’s website, you can learn much more about Rosalind Perlman’s life and her contribution to the Santa Barbara community.
The final paragraph below, taken from the Santa Barbara Foundation website, summarizes Rosalind Perlman’s trust:
Rosalind accomplished much, but toward the end of her life one thing remained unfinished: honoring the accomplishments of her husband’s uncle, Dr. Jacob Bolotin. Born in Chicago in 1888, totally penniless and completely blind, Dr. Bolotin fought his way into medical school and graduated with honors in 1912, becoming the world’s first and only blind physician fully licensed to practice medicine. Rosalind had searched for some time for a “well-established, highly respected organization” to present an annual award, the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for the Blind, which would be given to a visually impaired man or woman who has made a significant impact within the blind community, who has done extraordinary things for others. The Santa Barbara Foundation came to her aid. Rosalind left a $1 million bequest in the name of the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. The Foundation worked with the National Federation of the Blind to formulate the award <https://nfb.org/bolotin-award-main> and to produce her book on Dr. Bolotin’s life.
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