Fight for Sight was the first nonprofit organization in the United States to promote eye research, formed in 1946 as the National Council to Combat Blindness (NCCB). First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about the NCCB in its first year of existence, drawing attention to the goal of raising $50,000 for eye clinics and to treat retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Experimental treatments funded by NCCB began the first year at New York Hospital and the N.Y. Medical College of Flower-Fifth Avenue on a few hundred people with RP.
At age 25, Mildred Weisenfeld started The National Council to Combat Blindness in New York City, 10 years after she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, and her vision was rapidly deteriorating.
“Lights-On” fundraiser began, which over the years included many show business legends. First hosted by Milton Berle, and later Bob Hope, performers included Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Liza Minnelli, Harry Belafonte, Ed Sullivan, Pearl Bailey, Mel Allen, Peter Falk, Yul Brynner, Paul Anka, Eartha Kitt, Jackie Mason, Tommy Smothers, Joe Frazier, Jerry Stiller, Carol Channing, Tony Randall, Peggy Lee and many others.
The women’s division was started and grew into several dozen women’s auxiliary leagues in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. During their heyday, they fundraised as much as $330,000 annually.
Accompanied by blind Attorney General William E. Powers, Mildred presented an original Norman Rockwell painting to President Harry Truman on September 19, 1950 in honor of his signing legislation aiding the blind. Working with wealthy New York entrepreneur Mary Lasker, Mildred encouraged the addition of the word blindness to the founding title of The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Blindness, now known as The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Fight for Sight was adopted as the new name for the organization, replacing The National Council to Combat Blindness.
The first Fight for Sight Children’s Eye Center was founded at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. In later years, others were begun in Miami, FL (Bascom Palmer Eye Institute), Pittsburgh, PA (Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children), Philadelphia, PA (Wills Eye Hospital) and Newark, NJ (Eye Institute of New Jersey, UMDNJ-University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey).
Bob Hope, who later became an honorary FFS chairperson, donated $100,000 to establish the Bob Hope Fight for Sight fund.
On FFS’s 25th anniversary, Mildred was recognized by President Richard Nixon.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology gave Mildred its first award honoring a lay person for her contributions to the fields of ophthalmology and eye research.
ARVO (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) established the Weisenfeld Award for Excellence in Ophthalmology in honor of Mildred’s efforts and to recognize outstanding individuals for scholarly contributions to clinical ophthalmology.
Mildred was named “International Woman of the Year” by the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, England.
Harry and Leona Helmsley donated support for another Fight for Sight Children’s Eye Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.
On FFS’s 50th anniversary, The Lighthouse presented the Pisart Vision Award to Mildred for her leadership and accomplishments.
Mildred passed away after 50 years as FFS executive director.
Olympic figure skating champion Nancy Kerrigan became national spokeswoman, in support of her mother who is legally blind.
FFS established partnerships with NANOS, the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, Women’sEyeHealth.org, The American Uveitus Society and other professional societies and eye research charities.
FFS celebrated its 65th anniversary. To date, over $20 million has been awarded to more than 3,000 promising students, scientists and academic ophthalmologists.
FFS entered new co-funding relationships with Prevent Blindness America, the Aniridia Foundation, and the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, among others, and began negotiations with Fight for Sight-UK that will facilitate co-funding of international eye and vision grants. FFS created Strike for Sight, a bowling-based fundraising event and reintroduced Lights-On.
FFS’s first eye and vision symposium was held at the New York Academy of Medicine. The symposium’s topic was glaucoma. International leaders in the field shared their cutting-edge knowledge of diagnosis, care and treatment with medical students, residents and colleagues.
Two past FFS Grant-in Aid (GIA) recipients received significant recognition. Anthony Adamis, MD, FARVO (1995 GIA) was part of a team receiving ARVO’s Champalimaud Award, the world’s largest eye research prize. Vinit B. Mahajan, MD, PhD (2011 GIA) was featured in a People magazine article that described his finding a genetic defect that contributed to blindness in several generations of an Iowa family.
FFS’s second symposium was held at the New York Academy of Medicine and featured nine international leaders who spoke on the subject of macular degeneration and retinal disease.
FFS enters its seventh decade. Memorial and bequest gifts from the estate of John L. Isaacs and the family and friends of Dr. Kenneth Greenberg, a 1979 Summer Student Fellowship recipient, underscore FFS’s importance as it continues to fulfill its mission of supporting and inspiring eye and vision research by funding promising scientists early in their careers.
FFS enters into partnership agreements with the Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation and Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) in order to fund two new Post-Doctoral Awards in 2018.
As a byproduct of the 2017 Gala, Saving Sight joins as a FFS partner.
FFS enters into partnerships with Prevent Blindness and Foundation Fighting Blindness to fund a new Grant-in-Aid and Post-Doctoral Award.