February 18, 2013 was the celebration of President’s Day and the historic accomplishments of our founding fathers. Optometry in the United States also has a founding father – Charles F. Prentice.

Charles studied optics in England and eventually came to New York to start his own practice. However, this resulted in backlash from the medical community and charges that optometrists were not adequately trained in medicine. In 1895 Charles was threatened with legal action for charging a fee for an eye exam, which lead him to write a treatise on why states should recognize the profession of optometry.

Charles also helped organize a group of opticians, which is now known as the American Optometric Association (AOA). In 1919, Charles and the AOA worked together to raise money for the defense of Fred R. Baker, who fitted a man for glasses in Texas and was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. Fred faced a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. Finally, in 1921 a Texas court officially recognized optometry in the medical practice act.

In addition, Charles produced many writings and scientific discoveries, including the classic essay “Opthalmic Lenses.” In 1910 he even worked with Columbia University to develop a two-year optometry course, so students wouldn’t have to travel to Europe to study this profession. In 1958 the Charles F. Prentice Medal Award was established and is annually given to a scientist who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of the visual sciences.

Now, the next time you visit Dr. Lori Landrio in Merrick, New York or your local optometrist for an eye exam and glasses remember the founding father of optometry who helped make it possible – Charles F. Prentice.

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