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Burton Blatt Biography

From Syracuse University, Center on Human Policy

Burton Blatt
Burton Blatt

Burton Blatt was born in New York City on May 23, 1927, the son of Abraham and Jennie Starr Blatt. During WWII he served with the US Navy in the Philippine Islands.

He received his B.S. from New York University in 1949 and an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1950. During the summer and fall of 1950 he began his doctoral work and in 1955 was awarded both a Penn State graduate scholarship and teaching assistantship. He also received a New York State Regents Scholarship for Veterans, a Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children Scholarship, and an Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Scholarship. He graduated from Penn State in 1956.

In 1949 he began his career in education teaching English and Social Studies, and from 1950 to 1955 was a teacher of mentally retarded children, all for the New York City Board of Education.

After completing his doctorate in 1956, he was appointed an associate professor and Coordinator of Special Education at New Haven State Teachers College (later Southern Connecticut State College, now Southern Connecticut State University), and in 1959 was promoted to professor and Chair of the new Special Education Department. It was in 1957 at Connecticut when, with professor Seymour Sarason of Yale University, he helped create the first of three psycho-educational clinics. Other such settings were later developed at Boston University (1961) and Syracuse University (1969), a model described in his works with Professors Sarason and Frank Garfunkel of BU.

In 1961 he joined Boston University's School of Education as professor and chair of its Special Education Department. While at BU he held a clinical professorship in the Medical School's Psychiatry Department, participating in a program training psychiatrists for teaching.

He came to Syracuse University in 1969 as a professor of education and Director of the Division od Special Education and Rehabilitation. In 1971 he founded the Center on Human Policy with professors Douglas Biklen, Robert Bogdan and others. The Center is a policy, research, and advocacy organization involved in the national movement to insure the rights of people with disabilities. Blatt was named Dean of the Syracuse University School of Education on July 1, 1976.

Besides his teaching and administrative duties, Blatt served in a variety of capacities as consultant to federal agencies, state departments of welfare, education, mental health, and mental retardation; publishing firms, associations for retarded citizens, universities, and related organizations in New York, New England and other sections of the United States.

And through the years, he delivered a great many endowed, "distinguished", and other "named" lectures at major research universities and other scholarly institutions. He lectured at most major universities in the United States, as well as others in Canada and Europe.

He authored over 100 books and articles and is arguably best known for his Christmas in Purgatory, a 1966 portrait of life in a mental institution. A follow-up was written in 1979 titled The Family Papers: A Return to Purgatory.

Burton Blatt died after on January 20, 1985 after a short illness. He was 57 years of age.

For additional audio and video, please visit

Video of 1984 Speech: Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six

Audio: 1984 Speech National AAMD
Listen (with Transcript)

A Personal Statement About Burton Blatt – Bob Laux
Burton Blatt: Leader, Teacher, Friend – Hank Bersani

Burton Blatt Bio

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