Applied optics students practicing in 1929

History: Ohio State Optometry

The College of Optometry had its origins in the work of Professor Charles Sheard. Sheard came to the University in 1907 as an assistant professor in Physics. Interested in optics, Sheard gave a presentation in 1908 to the Ohio State Optical Association and was encouraged and assisted financially by the Association to undertake an educational program in optometry at the University. 

Class of 1916

This program began in 1914 as a two-year course, becoming a four-year degree-granting program, in the Department of Physics in the College of Engineering in 1915. At that time the program was known as Applied Optics, a name that would remain until 1937, when Optometry was used officially. Sheard, himself, left the University in 1919 and ended his award-winning career at the Mayo Clinic. Income from the Sheard Foundation, established by friends and colleagues of Dr. Sheard, has assisted the research activity of the College for many years.

Formal instruction in Applied Optics began at The Ohio State University in 1914. These courses prepared the students to enter the practice of optometry. The words “optometrist” and “optometry” were first used around 1905 by Ohioans engaged in the practice. Before this, they were known as refracting opticians. In 1919 the State of Ohio first regulated the practice of optometry.

The Ohio State University and its history of teaching, research, and community service, have shaped not only the College of Optometry but have helped in shaping the profession itself. Alumni of Applied Optics then, and of Optometry now, continue to serve prominently as practitioners, researchers, and teachers as well as supporters of The Ohio State University and its College of Optometry.

The optometry clinic remained in Mendenhall Laboratory until 1951.

A photo of the college when it was Applied Optics in Mendenhall Labs.
Applied Optics in Mendenhall lab in 1929
Fry Hall after it was completed in 1951.
Newly completed Fry Hall in 1951

Following Sheard, the program in Applied Optics had three directors until the time of Dr. Glenn Fry. These included Dr. Howard Minchin (1920-27), Dr. Morgan Davies (1927-32), and Dr. Charles Ellis (1932-35).

Between 1932 and 1935, Clarence R. Ellis, who had earned A B.Sc. in Applied Optics from OSU in 1923, served as part-time director while continuing his own private practice. Much of what is the present College of Optometry would be shaped by his successor, Dr. Glenn Fry. Until that point, the program had awarded only forty-eight diplomas since its beginning in 1915. In contrast, The Ohio State University would award more than 2170 degrees in optometry in the next sixty-one years.

During the Depression year of 1935, Dr. Glenn Fry joined the University as Director of the School of Optometry as an assistant professor. Shortly thereafter, Clarence Ellis left for reasons of ill health, and Professor Fry was put in charge of the courses in Applied Optics. At that time, it was part of the Department of Physics, whose chairperson was Professor Alpheus Smith.

Two major changes happened early. In 1936 the University called its courses “optometry” rather than applied optics and in 1937 it created the School of Optometry within the Colleges of the Arts and Sciences. An active researcher and educator, Professor Fry established graduate programs in physiological optics, the first to be associated with an optometry program.

Dr. Fry headed the optometry program until 1966, when he was made a Regents Professor. Many of his students and faculty attained positions of leadership at other institutions and in professional organizations. In recognition of Dr. Fry’s 44 years with the University, and his contributions to his profession, the University named the Optometry Building in his honor in 1983.

The 1960s was a decade that saw many changes, including many in optometry. In 1964 The Ohio State University approved a six-year program leading to the Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. This was the first such degree to be given at a public university.

In August of 1966 the School or Optometry had a new chief spokesperson. Dr. Frederick Hebbard, who had been Associate Director since 1962, succeeded Dr. Fry as Director of the School. A year later, in 1967, Dr. Hebbard became the first Dean, when the School of Optometry became the College of Optometry. He designed the doctoral hoods and presided at the first awarding of the O.D. degree. As Dean for more than twenty-years, Dr. Hebbard had many accomplishments, including the writing of a history of the College.

Graduating Class of 1968 in the stadium in their regalia.
Graduating Class of 1968 in the stadium with Dean Hebbard.
Dr. Glenn Fry in his lab with his equipment circa 1960s.
Dr. Glenn Fry in his research lab circa 1960s.

As its founder and first Directors had envisioned, the College of Optometry continued to engage in an active research program that made substantial contributions to the knowledge of the eye and of vision. For example, the College is a pioneer in methods to evaluate the consumption of oxygen by the cornea, and has found new ways to measure the permeability of new contact lens materials.

Dr. Richard Hill, who joined the faculty in 1964 and became Dean in 1988, was one of the well-known contact lens researchers from Ohio State. Dr. Hill was Dean of the College until he announced his retirement in 1995. He expanded the scope of the curriculum to include diagnostic and therapeutic drugs and introduced the “Opt 7” program, combining the doctor of optometry degree with a masters in vision science (OD/MS).

Dr. John P. Schoessler was appointed Acting Dean on July 1, 1995 while a search for a permanent dean was undertaken and was appointed Dean effective September 1, 1996. During his tenure, Dr. Schoessler greatly expanded clinical research funding, initiating the building of the E.F. Wildermuth Optometric Research Clinic, which opened in 2006.

Dr. Melvin D. Shipp served the college as dean from 2004-2014. He commissioned the faculty to revamp the curriculum in order to not only bring it up to date but to establish a framework that would provide ongoing curricular excellence. He oversaw the one million dollar remodeling of the preclinic, comprising 18 exam lanes, a classroom, and two teaching laboratories and the overhaul of the first year classroom.

Dr. Karla Zadnik became the College’s fifth—and first female—dean on June 1, 2014.

The 5 Deans of the college at the 100 year Centennial Celebration
Dean Karla Zadnik (center) with the four former deans of the College of Optometry: Emeritus Dean Hill, Emeritus Dean Hebbard, Emeritus Dean Schoessler, and Emeritus Dean Shipp at the college's Centennial Celebration in 2014.

100+ years and going strong

Learn more about the College of Optometry's rich tradition on our archived Centennial website.

Centennial website about 100+ years and going strong