Great blind people of history.

John Metcalf

Blind Jack

This is one of the most inspirational stories of all time, this man's achievements would be outstanding for a sighted man, for a blind man they beggar belief. John (or Jack, as he was known) Metcalf was born in a small thatched cottage opposite Knaresborough Castle, Yorkshire on 25 August 1717. His family was poor, his father bred horses. At the age of six Jack contracted smallpox and, as a result, became blind. He refused to let this restrict him and played all the games with the other local boys, he took up swimming and diving, fighting cocks, playing cards, riding and even hunting. He knew his local area so well he was paid to work as a guide to visitors. Seemingly fearless, he jumped in a river where two men were drowning and saved one, pulling him to safety. He was given fiddle lessons as a way of making provision for him to earn a living later in life. He became an accomplished fiddler and made this his livelihood in his early adult years. In 1732, aged 15, Metcalf succeeded the aged resident fiddler at the Queen's Head, a tavern in Harrogate.

 

Jack befriended Dorothy Benson, the daughter of the landlord of the Granby Inn in Harrogate. When aged 21 he made another woman pregnant, Dorothy begged him not to marry the woman and Jack fled. He spent some time living along the North Sea Coast between Newcastle and London, and lodged with his aunt in Whitby. He continued to work as a fiddler. When he heard Dorothy was to be married to a shoemaker, he returned and they eloped. They married and had four children. His fiddle playing gave him social connections and a patron, Colonel Liddell. In one much-repeated[citation needed] story the colonel decided to take him to London, 190 miles (310 km) to the south. John found the colonel’s leisurely progress slow and went ahead on foot. He reached London first and returned to Yorkshire before the colonel. He managed this on foot despite his blindness demonstrating his determination and resourcefulness. During the Jacobite rising of 1745 his connections got him the job of assistant to the royal recruiting sergeant in the Knaresborough area. Jack went with the army to Scotland. He did not experience action but was employed moving guns over boggy ground. He was captured but released. He used his Scottish experience to begin importing Aberdeen stockings to England. Before his army service Metcalf worked as a carrier using a four-wheeled chaise and a one-horse chair on local trips. When competition cut into the business he switched to carrying fish from the coast to Leeds and Manchester. After 1745 he bought a stone wagon and worked it between York and Knaresborough. By 1754 his business had grown to a stagecoach line. He drove a coach himself, making two trips a week during the summer and one in the winter months.

 

In 1765 the creation of turnpike trusts was begun, to build new toll funded roads in the Knaresborough area. There were few people with road-building experience and John seized the opportunity, building on his practical experience as a carrier. He won a contract to build a three-mile (5 km) section of road between Minskip and Ferrensby on a new road from Harrogate to Boroughbridge. He explored the section of countryside alone and worked out the most practical route, comprehensively surveying it despite his blindness. He went on to build over 180 miles of roads in Lancashire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Yorkshire. Metcalf believed a good road should have good foundations, be well drained and have a smooth convex surface to allow rainwater to drain quickly into ditches at the side. He understood the importance of good drainage, knowing it was rain that caused most problems on the roads. He worked out a way to build a road across a bog using a series of rafts made from ling (a type of heather) and furze (gorse) tied in bundles as foundations. This established his reputation as a road builder since other engineers had believed it could not be done. He acquired a mastery of his trade with his own method of calculating costs and materials, which he could never successfully explain to others. Competition from canals eventually cut into his profits and he retired in 1792 to live with a daughter and her husband at Spofforth in Yorkshire. At 77 he walked to York, where he related a detailed account of his life to a publisher. Blind Jack of Knaresborough died in his 93rd year on 26 April 1810, at his home in Spofforth. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints' Church, Spofforth with a beautiful epitaph. A statue of John Metcalf has been placed in the market square in Knaresborough, across from Blind Jack's pub.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Birth records were notoriously poor for slaves but the best guess is that Araminta Ross was born in 1820 to Harriet Green and Ben Ross, on a plantation near Madison, Maryland. Her mother was owned by Mary Brodess and her father by Anthony Thompson, the two slave-owners would later marry. Her maternal grandmaother, Modesty, had come over on a slave ship from Africa. The owners viewed the slaves as property and sold off three of her sisters never to be seen again. When they tried to sell her brother, Moses, her mother hid him for a month and when the prospective buyer and Edward Brodess came to her cabin she threatened to "split any man's head open who came in the door". Stories such as these would have shown Harriet that resistance was possible. Her mother was assigned to "the big house" and had no time for her family; consequently, as a child, Harriet took care of a younger brother and baby, as was typical in large families. When she was five or six years old, Brodess hired her out as a nursemaid to a woman named "Miss Susan." She was ordered to keep watch on the baby as it slept; when it woke up and cried, she was whipped. She later recounted a particular day when she was lashed five times before breakfast. She carried the scars for the rest of her life. She found ways to resist, running away for five days, wearing layers of clothing as protection against beatings, and fighting back. Later, while still a child, she also worked at the home of a planter named James Cook. She had to check the muskrat traps in nearby marshes, even after contracting measles. She became so ill that Cook sent her back to Brodess, where her mother nursed her back to health. Brodess then hired her out again. She spoke later of her acute childhood homesickness, comparing herself to "the boy on the Swanee River," an allusion to Stephen Foster's song "Old Folks at Home." As she grew older and stronger, she was assigned to field and forest work, driving oxen, plowing, and hauling logs. One day the adolescent Harriet was sent to a dry-goods store for supplies. There she encountered a slave owned by another family, who had left the fields without permission. His overseer, furious, demanded that she help restrain him. She refused, and as he ran away, the overseer threw a two-pound weight at him. He struck her instead, which she said "broke my skull." She later explained her belief that her hair – which "had never been combed and ... stood out like a bushel basket" – might have saved her life. Bleeding and unconscious, she was returned to her owner's house and laid on the seat of a loom, where she remained without medical care for two days. She was sent back into the fields, "with blood and sweat rolling down my face until I couldn't see." Her boss said she was "not worth a sixpence" and returned her to Brodess, who tried unsuccessfully to sell her. This wound would affect her vision for the rest of her life. By 1840, her father, Ben, was manumitted from slavery at the age of 45, as stipulated in a former owner's will, though his actual age was closer to 55. He continued working as a timber estimator and foreman for the Thompson family, who had held him as a slave. Several years later, Tubman contacted a white attorney and paid him five dollars to investigate her mother's legal status. The lawyer discovered that a former owner had issued instructions that her mother, like her father, would be manumitted at the age of 45. The record showed that a similar provision would apply to the children, and that any children born after she reached 45 years of age were legally free, but the Pattison and Brodess families had ignored this stipulation when they inherited the slaves. Challenging it legally was an impossible task for Harriet. Around 1844, she married a free black man named John Tubman. Although little is known about him or their time together, the union was complicated because of her slave status. Since the mother's status dictated that of children, any children born to Harriet and John would be enslaved. Such blended marriages – free people of color marrying enslaved people – were not uncommon on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where by this time, half the black population was free. Most African-American families had both free and enslaved members. In 1849, Tubman became ill again, and her value as a slave was diminished as a result. Edward Brodess tried to sell her, but could not find a buyer. Angry at his action and the unjust hold he kept on her relatives, Tubman began to pray for her owner, asking God to make him change his ways. "I prayed all night long for my master," she said later, "till the first of March; and all the time he was bringing people to look at me, and trying to sell me." When it appeared as though a sale was being concluded, she switched tactics. "I changed my prayer," she said. "First of March I began to pray, 'Oh Lord, if you ain't never going to change that man's heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way." A week later, Brodess died, and Harriet expressed regret for her earlier sentiments. Harriet and her two brothers escaped for a couple of weeks but finally the brothers returned and made her come with them. Soon afterward she escaped again, this time without her brothers. Beforehand, she tried to send word to her mother of her plans. She sang a coded song to Mary, a trusted fellow slave, that was a farewell. "I'll meet you in the morning," she intoned, "I'm bound for the promised land." While her exact route is unknown, she made use of the network known as the Underground Railroad. In December 1850 she was warned that her niece Kessiah and her two children, six-year-old James Alfred, and baby Araminta, soon would be sold in Cambridge. Harriet went to Baltimore, where her brother-in-law Tom Harriet hid her until the sale. Kessiah's husband, a free black man named John Bowley, made the winning bid for his wife. Then, while he pretended to make arrangements to pay, Kessiah and their children escaped to a nearby safe house. When night fell, Bowley sailed the family on a log canoe 60 miles (100 kilometers) to Baltimore, where they met with Harriet, who brought the family to Philadelphia. The next spring she returned to Maryland to help guide away other family members. During her second trip she recovered her brother Moses and two unidentified men. Over eleven years Harriet returned repeatedly to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, rescuing some 70 slaves in about thirteen expeditions, including her three other brothers, Henry, Ben, and Robert, their wives and some of their children. She also provided specific instructions to 50 to 60 additional fugitives who escaped to the north. Harriet carried a revolver, and was not afraid to use it. The gun afforded some protection from the ever-present slave catchers and their dogs, however she also purportedly threatened to shoot any escaped slave who tried to turn back on the journey since that would threaten the safety of the remaining group. Harriet told the tale of one man who insisted he was going to go back to the plantation when morale got low among a group of fugitive slaves. She pointed the gun at his head and said, "You go on or die." When the American Civil War broke out she worked for the Union Army as a spy, repeatedly travelling into enemy territory. After the war she went on and tirelessly promoted civil rights and became a suffragette activist. She lived until 1913, finally succumbing to pneumonia. She is one of the greatest people who ever lived.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo

Born in Pisa in 1564, Galileo Galilei is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time. His father was a famous lutenist and composer. Galileo became an accomplished lutenist himself and would have learned early from his father a healthy scepticism for established authority, the value of well-measured or quantified experimentation, an appreciation for a periodic or musical measure of time or rhythm, as well as the illuminative progeny to expect from a marriage of mathematics and experiment. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicus' idea that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo has been called the "father of modern observational astronomy", and the "father of modern physics", and "the father of modern science"; primarily because of his observational approach to hypotheses. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments. Galileo's championing of heliocentrism was controversial within his lifetime, when most subscribed to either geocentrism or the Tychonic system (named after Tycho Brahe who postulated that the sun moved around the earth while the planets moved around the sun). He met with opposition from astronomers, who doubted heliocentrism due to the absence of an observed stellar parallax (the apparent shift of a nearby star against the background of other objects relative to the earth's position). The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, and they concluded that it could only be supported as a possibility, not as an established fact. Galileo later defended his views in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which appeared to attack Pope Urban VIII and thus alienated him and the Jesuits, who had both supported Galileo up until this point. He was tried by the Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy", forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It was while Galileo was under house arrest that he wrote one of his finest works, Two New Sciences. Here he summarized the work he had done some forty years earlier, on the two sciences now called kinematics and strength of materials. He was totally blind at this point. Galileo designed an escapement mechanism for a pendulum clock (called Galileo's escapement), although no clock using this was built until after the first fully operational pendulum clock was made by Christiaan Huygens in the 1650s when he was blind. According to Stephen Hawking, Galileo probably bears more of the responsibility for the birth of modern science than anybody else, and Albert Einstein called him the father of modern science. He died in 1642.

John Milton

John Milton

John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval. He was born in 1608 in Bread Street, London to the composer John Milton and his wife, Sarah Jeffrey. The senior John Milton moved to London around 1583 after being disinherited by his devout Catholic father, Richard Milton, for embracing Protestantism. In London, the senior John Milton married Sarah Jeffrey and found lasting financial success as a scrivener. His fathers wealth provided him with a private tutor and he studied hard. John Milton was a man who believed passionately and with deep conviction; a staunch republican he propounded freedom and self-determination. The upheavals of the Stuart era reflected his own waxing and waning fortunes but he always stayed true to his beliefs. In 1625 Milton began attending Christ's College, Cambridge from whence hee graduated with a B.A. Milton was probably rusticated (suspended) for quarrelling in his first year with his tutor, Bishop William Chappell. Upon receiving his M.A. in 1632, Milton retired to Hammersmith, his father's new home since the previous year and undertook six years of self-directed private study. This was not retreat into a rural idyll: Hammersmith was then a "suburban village" falling into the orbit of London. He read both ancient and modern works of theology, philosophy, history, politics, literature and science, in preparation for a prospective poetical career. As a result of such intensive study, Milton is considered to be among the most learned of all English poets. In addition to his years of private study, Milton had command of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian from his school and undergraduate days; he also added Old English to his linguistic repertoire in the 1650s while researching his History of Britain, and probably acquired proficiency in Dutch soon after. In May 1638, Milton embarked upon a tour of France and Italy that lasted up to the summer of 1639. On returning to England, where the Bishops' Wars presaged further armed conflict, Milton began to write prose tracts against episcopacy, in the service of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. He married ( a 16 year old bride) but she was unhappy and deserted him. Subsequently he wrote a series of pamphlets arguing for the legality and morality of divorce. It was the hostile response accorded the divorce tracts that spurred Milton to write 'Areopagitica', his celebrated attack on pre-printing censorship. In Areopagitica, Milton not only aligns himself with the parliamentary cause, he also begins to synthesize the ideal of neo-Roman liberty with that of Christian liberty. With the parliamentary victory in the Civil War, Milton used his pen in defence of the republican principles represented by the Commonwealth. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649) defended popular government and implicitly sanctioned the regicide; Milton's political reputation got him appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues. By 1654, Milton had become totally blind; the cause of his blindness is debated but bilateral retinal detachment or glaucoma are most likely. His blindness forced him to dictate his verse and prose to amanuenses (helpers), one of whom was the poet Andrew Marvell. One of his best-known sonnets, On His Blindness, is presumed to date from this period. Though Cromwell's death in 1658 caused the English Republic to collapse into feuding military and political factions, Milton stubbornly clung to the beliefs that had originally inspired him to write for the Commonwealth. Milton's magnum opus, the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost, was composed by the blind and impoverished Milton from 1658 to 1664. As a blind poet, Milton dictated his verse to a series of aides in his employ. It has been argued that the poem reflects his personal despair at the failure of the Revolution, yet affirms an ultimate optimism in human potential. Milton followed up Paradise Lost with its sequel, Paradise Regained, published alongside the tragedy Samson Agonistes, in 1671. Both these works also resonate with Milton's post-Restoration political situation. He died of kidney failure in 1674.

James Thurber

James Thurber

Cartoonist, author, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit James Grover Thurber was born in 1894 in Columbus, Ohio. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in The New Yorker magazine and collected in his numerous books. Thurber had two brothers, William and Robert. Once, while playing a game of William Tell, his brother shot James in the eye with an arrow, and Thurber lost that eye. This injury would later cause him to become almost entirely blind. Unable in his childhood to partake in sports and other activities because of his injury, he elaborated a creative mind which he then used to express himself in writings. Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran suggests Thurber's imagination may be partly explained by Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition that causes complex visual hallucinations in otherwise mentally healthy people who have suffered some level of visual loss. He went to Ohio State but never graduated from the university because his poor eyesight prevented him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. After a stint in Washington DC working for the government Thurber returned to to Ohio and began his career as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. In 1925, Thurber moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, getting a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. He joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1927 as an editor, with the help of E.B. White, his friend and fellow New Yorker contributor. His career as a cartoonist began in 1930 after White found some of Thurber's drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication. Thurber contributed both his writings and his drawings to The New Yorker until the 1950s. He died in 1961. While Thurber drew his cartoons in the usual fashion in the 1920s and 1930s, his failing eyesight later required changes. He drew them on very large sheets of paper using a thick black crayon (or on black paper using white chalk, from which they were photographed and the colors reversed for publication). Regardless of method, his cartoons became as noted as his writings; they possessed an eerie, wobbly feel that seems to mirror his idiosyncratic view on life. He once wrote that people said it looked like he drew them under water. Many of his short stories are humorous fictional memoirs from his life, but he also wrote darker material, such as "The Whip-Poor-Will", a story of madness and murder. In addition to his other fiction, Thurber wrote over seventy-five fables, some of which were first published in "The New Yorker". His stories also included several book-length fairy tales, such as The White Deer, The 13 Clocks and The Wonderful O.

Horatio Nelson

Admiral Nelson

Horatio Nelson was born on 29 September 1758 in a rectory in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England, the sixth of eleven children of the Reverend Edmund Nelson and his wife Catherine Suckling. Of a well connected family, Nelson attended Grammar School until the age of 12 when when he reported to the third-rate HMS Raisonnable as an ordinary seaman and coxswain under his maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, who commanded the vessel. Shortly after reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training. Early in his service, Nelson discovered that he suffered from seasickness, a chronic complaint that dogged him for the rest of his life. Shortly thereafter he joined a Westindiaman to gain experience at sea. He arranged to join an expedition searching for the fabled North-West passage and chased a polar bear in the Artic. After a spell in the East Indies, which included a battle with pirates and a severe bout of malaria, Nelson continued to rise under the patronage of Suckling who was now Comptroller of the Navy and sat on the board for his lieutenant's exam. He did well from prize money against the French in the American Civil War. Of course it was the Revolutionary Wars which made Nelson's name; in 1793 the Admiralty recalled Nelson to service and gave him command of the 64-gun HMS Agamemnon. Sent to Corsica he was struck in th right eye by shrapnel and lost the sight of it. For the first years of the war Nelson did well but an engagement at Cape St Vincent resulted in the loss of his right arm. Fully healed (albeit without an eye and an arm) he returned to the Meditterranean and achieved an outstanding success at the Battle of the Nile, destroying a superior French fleet and cutting off Napoleon's army. He was amply feted by his victory (even while conducting an affair with another man's wife). Scenes of celebration erupted across the country, balls and victory feasts were held and church bells were rung. The City of London awarded Nelson and his captains with swords, whilst the King ordered them to be presented with special medals. The Tsar of Russia sent him a gift, and Selim III, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, awarded Nelson the Order of the Turkish Crescent for his role in restoring Ottoman rule in Egypt. He became Baron Nelson of the Nile. At the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 a signal was displayed to withdraw but Nelson raised his telescope to his blind eye and claimed he did not see it. With another victory he became Viscount Nelson. He died, shot through the spine, at the Battle of Trafalgar, again victorious. His dying words were "Thank God I have done my duty". He was awarded a state funeral to national mourning. King George III said "We have lost more than we gained".

Leonhard Euler

Leonhard Euler

Born in 1707 in Basel, Switzerland, Euler is considered to be the preeminent mathematician of the 18th century and one of the greatest mathematicians to have ever lived. Euler's early formal education started in Basel (the family having movedoutside Basel), where he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother. At the age of 13 he enrolled at the University of Basel, and in 1723, received his Master of Philosophy with a dissertation that compared the philosophies of Descartes and Newton. At this time, he was receiving Saturday afternoon lessons from Johann Bernoulli (no mean slouch himself), who quickly discovered his new pupil's incredible talent for mathematics. He followed Johann's son to Russia to the Academy at St. Petersburg, established by Peter the Great, which was intended to improve education in Russia and to close the scientific gap with Western Europe. As a result, it was made especially attractive to foreign scholars like Euler. The political climate worsened there with the rise of the nobilty and power struggles but Euler still rose to Head of Mathematics. Concerned about the continuing turmoil in Russia, Euler left St. Petersburg in 1741 to take up a post at the Berlin Academy, which he had been offered by Frederick the Great of Prussia. He lived for twenty-five years in Berlin, where he wrote over 380 articles. In Berlin, he published the two works for which he would become most renowned: The 'Introductio in analysin infinitorum', a text on functions, and 'the Institutiones calculi differentialis', on differential calculus. Euler's eyesight worsened throughout his mathematical career. Three years after suffering a near-fatal fever in 1735, he became almost blind in his right eye, but Euler rather blamed the painstaking work on cartography he performed for the St. Petersburg Academy for his condition. Euler's vision in that eye worsened throughout his stay in Germany, to the extent that Frederick referred to him as "Cyclops". Euler later developed a cataract in his left eye, which was discovered in 1766. Just a few weeks after its discovery, he was rendered almost totally blind. However, his condition appeared to have little effect on his productivity, as he compensated for it with his mental calculation skills and exquisite memory. For example, Euler could repeat the Aeneid of Virgil from beginning to end without hesitation, and for every page in the edition he could indicate which line was the first and which the last. With the aid of his scribes, Euler's productivity on many areas of study actually increased. He produced on average, one mathematical paper every week in the year 1775. In 1766, after the political climate in Russia had improved, he returned to St. Petersburg. He died in 1781 of a brain hemorrhage after a lunch spent discussing the newly discovered planet Uranus and it's orbit. Euler is the only mathematician to have two numbers named after him: the important Euler's Number in calculus, e, approximately equal to 2.71828, and the Euler-Mascheroni Constant γ (gamma) sometimes referred to as just "Euler's constant", approximately equal to 0.57721.

Enrico Dandolo

Enrico Dandolo

Enrico Dandolo was the 42nd Doge of Venice and is remembered for his blindness, piety, longevity, and shrewdness. He lived from 1107 to 1205, a remarkable achievement today but a miracle in the 12th century. Dandolo was from a socially and politically prominent Venetian family. His father, Vitale, was a close adviser of Doge Vitale II Michiel, while an uncle, also named Enrico Dandolo, was patriarch of Grado, the highest-ranking churchman in Venice. Both these men lived to be quite old, and the younger Enrico was overshadowed until he was in his sixties. Dandolo suffered from cortical blindness as a result of a severe blow to the back of the head received sometime between 1174 and 1176. Documents show Dandolo's signature being fully legible in 1174 but sprawling across the paper in 1176, suggesting that his sight deteriorated over time. In Venice it was illegal for a blind person to sign a document, since he/she could not read. Writing thirty years later, Geoffrey de Villehardouin, who had known Dandolo personally, stated, "Although his eyes appeared normal, he could not see a hand in front of his face, having lost his sight after a head wound." In the Middle Ages it was not unusual for an elderly person to become blind as a result of cataracts. However, all sources for Dandolo's blindness remark on the clarity of his eyes. In 1192 he became the 42nd Doge of Venice. Already aged and blind, but deeply ambitious, he displayed tremendous mental and (for his age) physical strength. In 1194, Enrico enacted reforms to the Venetian currency system which resulted in great economic gains. His piece de resitance was the 4th Crusade in 1202 which Venice funded. In a complex series of events (Byzantine) the Crusaders ran out of money and the blind Doge, at 95, directed the sacking of Constantinople and seubsequent annexation of one third of the Byzantine Empire. Dandolo died in May 1205 and was buried in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Oscar-Claude Monet, born in Paris in 1840, was a founder of French Impressionist painting, in fact the term "Impressionism" is derived from the title of his painting 'Impression, soleil levant' (Impression, Sunrise), which was exhibited in 1874 in the first independent exhibition. In 1845, his family moved to Le Havre in Normandy. His father wanted him to go into the family grocery business, but Monet wanted to become an artist. His mother was a singer. After art school he travelled to Paris then joined the army at the age of 21 and went to Algeria. He contracted typhoid fever two years later. His aunt got him out of the army and he returned to art school where he met up with Renoir, Bezille and Sisley. He used a model, Camille, extensively who he married and the pair lived in poverty (at one point his paintings were seized by his creditors) until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War when he fled to England. He studied Constable and Turner which influenced his later landscapes. They moved back to Paris but, sadly, his wife died in 1879 but Monet continued to paint, producing some of his best work. After 1883 he moved to a house where he lanscaped the garden, including a lily pond. He focused on this and by the mid-1910s Monet had achieved "a completely new, fluid, and somewhat audacious style of painting in which the water-lily pond became the point of departure for an almost abstract art." From this time on his sight deteriorated with cataracts which were finally removed in 1923. The paintings done while the cataracts affected his vision have a general reddish tone, which is characteristic of the vision of cataract victims. It may also be that after surgery he was able to see certain ultraviolet wavelengths of light that are normally excluded by the lens of the eye; this may have had an effect on the colors he perceived. After his operations he even repainted some of these paintings, with bluer water lilies than before. He died in 1926 of lung cancer.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin

Jacob Bolotin

Jacob Bolotin was born in Chicago in 1888 to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland. He was the seventh child and the third to be born blind. He grew up in a time when there was very little extra care available for the blind. He did go to a school for the blind (along with his brother). Jacob developed his other senses to counteract his blindness; it was said that he could read braille through three handkerchiefs and he was able to recognise people by small. After leaving school he became a typewriter salesman, developing his own method of cane travel in Chicago, to fund his medical studies. At 16 he was congratulated as one of the best typewriter salesmen. His progress through medical was very difficult, he constantly had to overcome prejudice against his disability as well as overcoming the various physical problems. Finally, as an intern at an Illinois hospital his talents began to be recognized. A girls's illness was misdiagnosed by at least three other physicians who thought it was psychologically based when Jacob Bolotin examined her he was stunned to hear the distinct murmur of an obstructed heart valve. His brilliance as a physician, however, was recognized by patients and other physicians long before he took his rightful place in the medical community. Even after working for months as a volunteer physician in a facility for tuberculosis patients, he was not hired by that institution. Patients loved him, and doctors frequently called upon him for consultation, but his blindness was repeatedly waved as an excuse for not paying him for his services. Eventually, however, Dr. Jacob Bolotin grew to be a renowned heart and lung specialist. He also became legendary as a speaker; to quote from one of his addresses "Well, is there anything so remarkable about it? Because a man has no eyes, is it any sign that he hasn't any brains? That is the trouble with the world and the blind man. All the blind man asks is fair play. Give him an equal chance without prejudice, and he generally manages to hold his own with his more fortunate colleagues." Sadly he died in 1924 at the age of 36 having, apparently, literally worked himself to death. His achievements live on as an example to us all.

Joseph Pulitzer

Joseph Pulitzer

Nice to have the most prestigious journalism award in the world named after you. Born in 1847 in Mako, Hungary, Joseph Pulitzer's was a story of riches to rags to riches. His father was a very succesful Jewish merchant who retired a wealthy man in 1853. After his father's death 5 years later the business declined and became bankrupt. Impoverished, the young Joseph tried to enlist in various armies as a mercenary. At 17 he left for America, his passage paid for by the Union army to fight in the Civil War (again as a mercenary). When he arrived he found that the agents were keeping most of the money and so went to find other employment. Flat broke, he slept in wagons on cobblestone side streets. He decided to travel by "side-door Pullman" (a euphemism for a freight boxcar) to St. Louis, Missouri. He sold his one possession, a white handkerchief, for 75 cents. In St Louis he tried a succession of jobs, usually for a short time as he was ill-suited to taking orders, or labouring. He taught himself to read and speak English. After being taken in by another scam he wrote an article on his experience and submitted it to the local German paper. A journalist was born. Pulitzer displayed a flair for reporting. He would work 16 hours a day—from 10 AM to 2 AM. He was nicknamed "Joey the German" or "Joey the Jew". He also went into politics. He attended the Republican meeting where party leaders needed a candidate to fill a vacancy in the state legislature. They settled on Pulitzer, nominating him unanimously, forgetting he was only 22, three years under the required age. However, his chief Democratic opponent was possibly ineligible because he had served in the Confederate army. Pulitzer had energy. He organized street meetings, called personally on the voters, and exhibited such sincerity along with his oddities that he had pumped a half-amused excitement into a campaign that was normally lethargic. He won 209–147. In 1872, Pulitzer purchased a share in the German paper and then sold his stake for a profit the following year. In 1879, he bought both the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post, merging the two papers as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It continues as St. Louis' daily newspaper. With his own paper, Pulitzer developed his role as a champion of the common man, featuring exposés and a hard-hitting populist approach. Four years later, by now a wealthy man, he bought the New York World and turned it into a major success. He and William Hearst at the New York Journal had a circulation war which shot both their publications into 'yellow journalism'. Pulitzer always had his finger on the populist pulse and introduced much of modern journalism. With the turn of the century his health deteriorated and he went blind. Although he resigned his positions he still managed his empire from the sidelines. He died, quietly, in 1911, leaving $2,000,000 to Columbia University in his will and it is this endowment that funds the awrds and scholarships today.

Joseph Plateau

Joseph Plateau

So who do we thank for the cinema? An excellent candidate was born in 1801 in Tournai in what was to become Belgium; Joseph Plateau. His father was a talented flower painter and the age of six young Joseph was already able to read which made him a child prodigy back then. Especially fascinated by physics, he used to spend his school holidays in Marche-Les-Dames, with his uncle and his family: his cousin and playfellow was Auguste Payen, who later became an architect and the principal designer of the Belgian railways. At the age of fourteen he lost his father and mother. n 1829 Joseph Plateau submitted his doctoral thesis to his mentor Adolphe Quetelet for advice. It contained only 27 pages, but formulated a great number of fundamental conclusions. It contained the first results of his research into the effect of colours on the retina (duration, intensity and colour), his mathematical research into the intersections of revolving curves (locus), the observation of the distortion of moving images, and the reconstruction of distorted images through counter revolving discs (he dubbed these anorthoscopic discs). Three years later Joseph invented an early stroboscopic device, the "phenakistoscope", the first device to give the illusion of a moving image. It consisted of two disks, one with small equidistant radial windows, through which the viewer could look, and another containing a sequence of images. When the two disks rotated at the correct speed, the synchronization of the windows and the images created an animated effect. The projection of stroboscopic photographs, creating the illusion of motion, eventually led to the development of cinema. Fascinated by the persistence of luminous impressions on the retina, he performed an experiment in which he gazed directly into the sun for 25 seconds, this caused him to later go blind. Joseph continued with his work and studied the phenomena of capillary action and surface tension. The mathematical problem of the existence of a minimal surface with a given boundary is named after him. He died in Ghent in 1883.

Homer

Homer

Although accredited as the author of The Iliad and Odyssey next to nothing is known of his life, some even surmise that 'Homer' was a generic name for a wandering poet. We have included him as the biographies (of which there are 12 major ones from Classical Greece), be they fact or fable, are very illustrative of the attitudes to blindness in that era. He probably lived (presuming he was just one person) somewhere between 850 and 1100 BCE. The one undisputed part is that he was blind. The reason that people think he may represent a type is etymological, the derivation of his name. The characterization of Homer as a blind bard begins in extant literature with the last verse in the Delian 'Hymn to Apollo' where the author of the hymn claims to be a blind bard from Chios. This claim is quite different from the mere attribution of the hymn to Homer by a third party from a different time. The claim cannot be false without the supposition of a deliberate fraud. And then there is the self-referential section in the Odyssey, describing a blind bard, Demodocus, in the court of the Phaeacian king, who recounts stories of Troy to the shipwrecked Odysseus. The blind bard was not uncommon as they were seen to have the power of 'inner vision' rather than just the observation of their surroundings. Similarly there is no reason why Homer could not have memorized an epic poem as their are cited instances of this ability among later bards. So we have the Classical Greeks revering blindness as a special 'gift' rather than a handicap. He did not only compose epic poems, over half of his work constitutes speeches; so prolific waqs he that fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds in Egypt. He was believed by the ancient Greeks to have been the first and greatest of the epic poets. Author of the first known literature of Europe, he is central to the Western canon. Western literature stemmed from the blind.