History of the School

History of Indiana University School of Optometry

 The notion of an optometry school was first seriously discussed by Indiana optometrists John P. Davey (1893-1954) and Noah A. Bixler (1884-1959) in the late 1930s.  As members of the Indiana State Board of Optometry, they held high standards for practice in Indiana, and they felt that a school at Indiana University would help maintain these standards.  In 1944, Irvin M. Borish, an ICO graduate, located to Kokomo, Indiana, because he recognized those high standards required of Indiana optometrists.  Davey and Bixler recruited Borish to help in the effort to start a school at IU, and in December of 1944 they met with IU president Herman B Wells, who asked the Indiana Association of Optometrists to set up a committee to negotiate for founding of the school.  

Irwin M. Borish and John P. Davey
Irvin M. Borish and John P. Davey.

The president of the IAO in 1945 was Edgar Cain (1899-1993).  Cain rallied the state optometrists behind the idea.  Along with Davey (chair), Bixler, and Borish, members of the committee were all prominent Indiana optometrists: Ellis C. Doering (1896-1989), Galen F. Kintner (1904-1989), Loyd Wedeking (1912-1976), Kenneth E. Kintner (1910-2004), Robert Tubesing (1913-1966), and C. Earl Fisher (1891-1972).  Herman Wells appointed IU vice president Herman Briscoe to work with the School Committee.  Briscoe went to the IU Trustees to seek approval of the school in 1947, but due to continuing opposition from the medical school, it was denied, so they went to the Indiana state legislature with Wells and Briscoe’s blessing.

An all-out effort to educate the state legislature of the need for the school was launched by the School Committee, the 1951 Indiana Optometric Association president Virgil A. McCleary (1914-1996), and many other Indiana optometrists.  On February 19, 1951, the Indiana House voted unanimously in favor of the bill.  On March 1, 1951, the Indiana Senate passed the bill with 39 yes votes to 3 no votes.  The Governor signed the bill into law on March 5, 1951.  

Pre-optometry courses began at IU in the fall of 1951, with two years scheduled for the pre-optometry curriculum and then three years of professional optometry courses.  In the spring of 1952, Herman Briscoe hired Henry Hofstetter to serve as the first Director of the Division of Optometry.  Hofstetter received optometry, M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from The Ohio State University.  In 1942, Hofstetter became the first optometrist to receive a Ph.D. degree in physiological optics (vision science) granted by a North American university associated with an optometry school.  Hofstetter was recognized for his teaching and research, and his 1948 book “Optometry – Professional, Economic, and Legal Aspects” established him as an authority on optometric practice.  Before coming to IU, Hofstetter served as a faculty member at Ohio State and as Dean of the Los Angeles College of Optometry.

 The first professional classes in optometry at IU began in the fall of 1953.  Optometry courses were taught by Hofstetter, Merrill J. Allen, and J. Stanley Rafalko.  The first optometry class of 16 graduates received their Master of Optometry degrees in 1956.

Indiana University’s graduate program in physiological optics (now vision science) began in the fall of 1954.  The first M.S. degrees were awarded in 1956 to William R. Baldwin, Lester Ray Loper, and Paul W. Lappin.  The first Ph.D. degrees were granted in 1962 to Robert B. Mandell and John H. Carter, Jr.  Many of the physiological optics/vision science graduates have gone on to distinguished careers in vision research, optometric education, optometric administration, military optometry, and ophthalmic industry.

Optometry class sizes remained less than 30 until 1967 and then gradually increased so that graduating classes generally numbered in the 60s from 1974 to 1998, after which increasing into the 70s.  All of the graduates in the first six optometry classes were male.  The first female graduates were Miriam H. Stemle (Boyd) in 1962 and Joan Exford in 1964.  The number of female graduates steadily increased, so that the Class of 1993 was the first with more women than men and since 1997 almost all classes have had more women than men.

In the early years of the optometry school, classes, research, and clinics were conducted in various buildings around the IU campus.  In 1959, the clinic moved from Jordan Hall to Foley House, a former residence at 744 East Third Street.  It operated there until completion of the Optometry Building at 800 East Atwater Avenue in January of 1968.  This building included classroom space, the second floor dedicated to clinic, the branch Optometry Library, research space, as well as faculty, staff, and administrative offices.

In the 1960s, the optometry curriculum expanded from three to four years.  Four years of study after at least two years of pre-professional studies met university requirements for the awarding of a doctoral degree.  IU granted its first Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degrees in1968.

Henry Hofstetter, Gordon Haeth and Herman Wells
Henry Hofstetter, Gordon Heath, and Herman B Wells circa 1969.

In 1970, Henry Hofstetter stepped down as head of the optometry program, and Gordon Heath took over that position.  Heath held his optometry degree from Los Angeles College of optometry and a Ph.D. in physiological optics from University of California Berkeley.  He had joined the IU faculty in 1955.  In 1975, the IU Division of Optometry became the IU School of Optometry.  Heath served as Dean of the School of Optometry until 1988.  Subsequent Deans have been Jack Bennett (1988-1998), Gerald Lowther (1998-2008), P. Sarita Soni (2008-2010), and Joseph A. Bonanno (2010-present).

An optometric technician program was started in 1971 and an optician training program in 1980.  The technician and optician programs were merged into one program in 1987.  An Associate degree was offered over most of the years of the program.  Many of its graduates found employment by Indiana optometrists.

IU was one of the first optometry schools to utilize external rotation sites for the clinical training of optometry students.  In 1975, IU initiated a six week rotation program in the fourth year of the curriculum.  Some of the first external rotation sites were military bases and veterans administration facilities.  The external rotations program has expanded so that fourth year students now do clinic work in four 12-week rotations.  IU offered its first residency in 1984, and subsequently several residency positions have been added.

Indiana University Optometry has managed various off-campus clinics at different times.  The Community EyeCare Center operated on Bloomington’s west side for nearly forty years starting in 1972.  The present-day Indianapolis EyeCare Center traces its origins to the School of Optometry’s Illinois Street Eye Clinic opened in December of 1976.  For various periods of time, the School also had clinics in Guanajuato, Mexico, rural Indiana, and Carmel, Indiana.  In 2008, the Atwater EyeCare Center moved from the second floor of the school to a new clinic building across from the school.  Later the operations of the Community EyeCare Center were incorporated into that facility.

Many IU optometry faculty and alumni have provided leadership in optometric education, optometric practice, and vision research.  More information about the history of the IU School of Optometry can be found in the Indiana Journal of Optometry (http://www.opt.indiana.edu/indjopt/), particularly in the Fall, 2003 and Fall, 2004 issues.

The information for this page researched and submitted by Dr. David A. Goss, OD, PhD '80