March 1998

Mildred Mosler Weisenfeld, 1921-1997

Author Affiliations

Copyright 1998 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.1998

Arch Ophthalmol. 1998;116(3):401. doi:10.1001/archopht.116.3.401

Mildred Mosler Weisenfeld is known by many in the ophthalmology community as the founder, in 1946, and executive director of Fight for Sight, an organization that funds vision research projects and contributes support to children's eye clinics. In 1988, Fight for Sight became the research division of Prevent Blindness America, Schaumburg, Ill.

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Mildred Mosler Weisenfeld

Ms Weisenfeld was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1921. In 1936, she began to lose her vision, the cause of which was eventually diagnosed as retinitis pigmentosa. She became a patient of John McLean, MD, at Cornell University Medical College, New York, NY. When disheartened with the disease and the futile therapy available, she was urged by McLean to devote her efforts to encouraging research in eye disease. She was rebuffed by many of the organizations concerned with vision and eye disease and founded the National Council to Combat Blindness, New York, in 1946. Five modest grants for research were made in 1947. Subsequently, Fight for Sight financed more than $13 million in eye research and sponsored children's eye clinics in New York, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, Pa, Pittsburgh, Penn, and Miami, Fla. Fight for Sight annually funds about 40 research grants-in-aid, postdoctoral fellowships, and student fellowships.

The lasting effect of Ms Weisenfeld's early insight and enduring work deserves high regard. Although the understanding of vision was rudimentary 50 years ago, Ms Weisenfeld already understood the need for attention to research and devoted herself to advancing the then unusual idea of preventing blindness. By 1949, she was before Congress to urge the incorporation of blindness research at the National Institute of Neurology. This was one of her major contributions—a clear perception of the need to expand the focus of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md, to specifically emphasize visual loss.

As her organization grew during the years, Ms Weisenfeld developed an enduring presence in this field. By 1986, the Board of Trustees of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Bethesda, established the Mildred Weisenfeld Award for Excellence in Ophthalmology, presented annually at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting. She herself received various awards for her efforts to advance vision research, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Award in 1951, the Citizen's Award for Meritorious Service from the Medical Society of New York in 1962, recognition for outstanding contributions to ophthalmology in 1975 from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, San Francisco, Calif, and in 1989 from the Glaucoma Foundation, New York, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Prevent Blindness America in 1992.

Most recently, Ms Weisenfeld was honored with the 1996 Lighthouse Pisart Vision Award. The late Madame Georgette Pisart endowed this award for persons whose accomplishments in the vision field reached beyond their immediate locale and whose leadership inspired others. Testimonies on Ms Weisenfeld's behalf were made to the award selection committee by the director of the National Eye Institute, Bethesda, and heads of the departments of ophthalmology at Columbia University, New York, Cornell Medical Center, and Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, among others.

In fulfilling her lifelong commitment to research into all forms of visual loss and blindness, Mildred Weisenfeld became a strong role model for philanthropists in medical science. Her broad, long-term outlook and her understanding and realistic support of scientific inquiry were applied faithfully and optimistically to her personal goals for research.

Mildred Weisenfeld received a bachelor of arts degree from Brooklyn College, Brooklyn. She married Albert Mosler in 1956. Mr Mosler, who also had retinitis pigmentosa, died in 1967. Ms Weisenfeld died at her home in Manhattan, NY, on December 6, 1997, of lung cancer.