As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate the contributions of women ophthalmologists and optometrists to the field. Despite the fact that concepts of treating eye afflictions and diseases was first recorded around 1550 BC, and that optometry has been around since 1263, it wasn’t until the 1860s that women began practicing medical eye care. Their hard work, dedication and unwavering commitment to providing exceptional eye care services have paved the way for future generations of female eye doctors.

Isabel Hayes Chapin Barrows (1845-1913): Isabel Hayes Chapin Barrows is recognized as the first-ever female ophthalmologist. In 1869, she enrolled in the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, where she earned her medical degree. She later traveled to Switzerland, where she received her master’s from the University of Zurich. Once finishing her studies, she returned to the States, where she opened her private practice in Washington DC, making her the first female doctor in the city to open and operate an ophthalmologist practice and the first female ophthalmologist. Later, she became the first female professor at a medical school while teaching at Howard University from 1870 to 1873.

Gertrude Stanton (1863-1931): Gertrude Stanton, born in Iowa in 1863, was the first woman to receive a license to practice optometry in the United States. She began as a teacher, later moving to Minnesota to learn optometry, where she received her license in 1899, making her the first woman in the United States to gain licensure. She later went on to run her own optometry business, where she employed an entire team of women. 

Mollie Wright Armstrong (1875-1964): Mollie Wright was the second woman to receive a license in optometry in the United States and the first to receive one in Texas. She served on many boards in Texas and helped pass the first optometry laws in Texas.

Patricia Bath (1942-2019): Patricia Bath was the first Black woman to become an ophthalmologist in the United States. In 1988, she received a patent for a medical invention, making her the first Black woman doctor to do so. She invented the Laserphaco Probe, a laser that removes cataracts with minimal invasion; an invention that is still used today. She also co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, establishing eyesight as a fundamental human right. 

Alice McPherson (1926-2023): Known for being a renowned educator, Alice McPherson pioneered retinal treatment. She led groundbreaking procedures in retinal surgery, such as cryotherapy and scleral buckling. In 2014, McPherson received the Gonin Medal, the oldest and most prestigious ophthalmology award, and in 2019, she was the inaugural recipient of the Retina Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award.

Recognizing the remarkable contributions made by women ophthalmologists and optometrists throughout history provides a true form of inspiration from their determination, hard work and unwavering commitment to exceptional eye care services. From Isabel Hayes Chapin Barrows, the first female ophthalmologist, to Alice McPherson, a renowned educator and pioneer in retinal treatment, these women have left a legacy. We honor their achievements and recognize their significant role in ophthalmology and optometry!

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