Dr. Jacob W. Bolotin (1888-1924) was a blind physician who lived and practiced medicine in Chicago in the early part of the twentieth century.
Born to a poor family of Jewish immigrants, Dr. Bolotin attended the Illinois School for the Blind and began his working life selling kitchen matches, brushes, and typewriters door to door.
Although he was successful as a salesman, he dreamed of becoming a doctor, so he confronted the prejudice of the medical establishment and the general public to obtain a medical degree and a license to practice medicine.
Dr. Bolotin initially struggled financially before his extraordinary medical skills, particularly in diagnosing and treating conditions of the heart and lungs, were recognized and he was able to gain the compensation that his work deserved.
In addition to maintaining a heavy load of private patients, he volunteered his medical services in Chicago’s poorest segregated neighborhoods and screened recruits for the armed forces during World War I.
Dr. Bolotin’s inspiring story made him a popular public speaker throughout the Midwest as he used his public stature to advocate for the employment and full integration of the blind into society. He once said, “I am blind, and I am a doctor. The fact that I am standing here before you is living proof of what we the handicapped can achieve. The sentiment held by the average person that we are helpless, useless objects of charity must be erased forever. The major problem for us is not our affliction, but the wall of ignorance, injustices, indifference and misconceptions that separate us from you who can see. We must break down that wall, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help. How fortunate we all are to be citizens of this great country. Let us make its bounty, its freedoms and rights we take so for granted, available to every human being, regardless of physical infirmities, rich or poor––equal rights to education, equal rights to work, equal rights to dream and achieve that dream, to achieve lives of self-reliance, pride and usefulness to our fellow man, and to live to the fullest the life God granted him.”
In addition to being an early voice for the rights of the blind, Dr. Bolotin was particularly interested in the welfare of children and youth. He advocated progressive health programs, adequate play, better parenting, and an equal education for all children. He was also a professor at Loyola University Medical School, his alma mater.
His interests in the welfare of the blind and of young people led him to establish one of the first Boy Scout troops consisting entirely of blind boys. He served as the leader of Troop 300 until his death, and his brother Fred continued to be involved with the troop into the 1950s. Jacob Bolotin was also a member of Kiwanis International and was passionately dedicated to that service organization.
Dr. Bolotin’s dedication to serving his patients no matter the hour, day or night, combined with his heavy speaking schedule and volunteer service activities on behalf of blind youth, distinguished him as a man of passion but almost certainly led to his untimely death in 1924 at the age of thirty-six. It was reported that five thousand people (including one thousand blind people) attended his funeral.
The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story
Author Rosalind Perlman recounted Dr. Bolotin’s life in the biography, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, which was based on the memories of her husband, Alfred Perlman, the nephew of Dr. Bolotin's wife who lived with the Bolotins for several years when he was a boy.
“The Blind Doctor is the moving and powerful story of a blind man who fought ignorance and prejudice to become one of the most respected physicians in Chicago,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Everyone who reads Dr. Jacob Bolotin's story will learn that blindness is no barrier to a full life and great accomplishments.”
The National Federation of the Blind was specifically chosen by Rosalind Perlman to present the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards.
Like the award’s namesake, the National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness does not define an individual or his or her future.
Since its inception in 2008 through 2018, the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award program has honored fifty-eight extraordinary innovators and leaders working in the field of blindness with awards totaling $580,000.
“Belief in oneself is the key to living life as an independent, productive blind person; without self-confidence, no amount of rehabilitation training will make a blind person self-sufficient,” said Dr. Joanne Wilson, founder of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. “Dr. Jacob Bolotin's inspiring story sets an example for all blind people, because he believed in himself and found ways to overcome obstacles at a time when the social, legal, and technological resources available to the blind today did not exist.”
Sponsored by the Alfred & Rosalind Perlman Trust. Presented by the National Federation of the Blind.