The Famous Seattle 1954 Resolution and its Implications

First in a Three-Part Series

By Irving Bennett, O.D.

The AOA Congress in Seattle, WA in June 1954 was “different” in at least two ways.  There were no commercial exhibits.  The optical industry had decided to have an Optical Fair in Chicago at the same time and vendors were concentrating their efforts in attracting eye care professionals to the Windy City.

The lack of the funding stream that ophthalmic exhibits generally provide to AOA conventions was a major concern among the AOA leadership. They reluctantly increased Congress registration fees (albeit, slightly).  It was a pleasant surprise that attendance was very good.

As was customary in the earlier years of  the AOA, there was considerable floor debate in Seattle on issues involving the profession.  A raise in membership dues and the appointment of a regional Nominating Committee were two contentious issues that met the fate of being tabled, resurrected and then passed.   The news that the Department of Optometry at Columbia University was being discontinued was shocking.  This ended the oldest university-affiliated school of optometry; a school begun in 1910.

Yet, in spite of all that going on, the Seattle Congress will best be remembered for adopting, without discussion or dissent, the following resolution that concluded:

“Resolved, that it is the stated policy of the American Optometric Association in convention assembled that the field of visual care is the field of Optometry and should be exclusively the field of Optometry; and be it further

“Resolved, that the individual state associations are recommended to make serious study of the Optometry laws in their states to the end that exemptions be restricted, limited and ultimately eliminated and that encroachments by untrained, unqualified and unlicensed persons into the exclusive field of Optometry be prevented through the established enforcement agencies in the respective states.”

What exactly did the AOA mean by that resolution? According to Wolfberg, writing in the Journal of the American Optometric Association in March 1999, “the resolution was directed toward ‘untrained and unlicensed persons.’…Unfortunately, several medically-oriented publications, such as the October 1954 issue of Guildcraft and the August 1955 edition of Medical Economics conveyed the highly inflammatory message that ‘Optometry wants to halt MD-Refracting’.”

In spite of the fact that the AOA House of Delegates adopted a clarifying resolution in 1955, the “damage” was done and the American Medical Association crafted a strong response.  We shall report on that in the next Historical Gem.


  1. Gregg, JR.  American Optometric Association – A History.  St. Louis: American Optometric Association, 1972: 251-253
  2. Wolfberg, MD. A profession’s commitment to increased public service: optometry’s remarkable story.  Journal of the American Optometric Association, March 1999:145-170


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