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Dartmouth Medical School. Eye Institute


Adelbert Ames, Jr., the founder and real guiding spirit of the Dartmouth Eye Institute, was neither an ophthalmologist nor optometrist. He was trained as a lawyer, but after a few years he abandoned legal practice to become an artist. Ames' analytic mind led him to explore the relative influence of visual and aesthetic factors in his painting. His interest in this profound problem brought him to Hanover, N. H., in 1919 to consult Charles Proctor, professor of physics at Dartmouth. Ames decided to start at the beginning and study the optical characteristics of the eye. As a result, the Department of Research in Physiological Optics was established at Dartmouth and some excellent studies on the dioptrics of the eye were made by Ames and Proctor.” Because of this work, Ames was elected Professor of Research in Physiological Optics and given a Master of Arts degree by the College in 1921.

In 1923 Ames enlisted the aid of Gordon H. Gliddon, lens designer at the Eastman Kodak Company and a faculty member of the Rochester School of Optometry. Two of Gliddon's former students, Leo F. Madigan and Henry A. Imus, both graduates of the Rochester School of Optometry, eventually joined the staff. (Other optometrists to [later] become associated with the Dartmouth Eye Institute include E. Craig Wilson, Leon E. Straw, Wendell Triller, Rudolph T. Textor, Vincent J. Ellerbrock, Rita Walsh, Walter Johnson, and Ethel J. Babbitt.)” “Ames began to tackle the question of binocular vision on a broad basis, leading off with one of the most complicated factors, cyclophoria. It was at this point that the work of Ames first came to the attention of ophthalmologists. More especially, Walter B. Lancaster, of Boston, became interested in the studies carried on at Dartmouth and lent his active help and advice.

The Rockefeller Foundation Fund contributed generously to the support of the research work and the American Optical Company, aside from giving financial support to the research, made available its instrument and lens manufacturing facilities. The major clinical contribution of the Dartmouth Eye Institute was the development of instrumentation and techniques for the measurement and correction of aniseikonia.” “This particular subject was studied relentlessly in the ensuing years.

The more these clinical studies progressed, the more the feeling grew that aniseikonia, as a component of the sensory part of the visual apparatus, has a significant bearing on the neuromuscular anomalies of the eyes. It was at this time that Alfred Bielschowsky, of Breslau, Germany, visited this country as a lecturer. Lancaster, always maintaining his interest in the work of Ames, suggested to him that Bielschowsky might be willing to come to Hanover to join the department. Ames approached Bielschowsky, and he agreed to come for a six months' visit. During this visit he became so impressed with the possibilities which the department had to offer that he decided to return to Hanover to stay permanently. The coming of Bielschowsky gave a tremendous impetus to the organization. The Department of Research in Physiological Optics was transformed into the Dartmouth Eye Institute, consisting of a research division and a clinical division. Bielschowsky became director of the Institute, and the staff of each division was enlarged considerably. The work of the clinical divisions, more especially, was expanded. The research division continued to carry on its problems: Ames became more and more interested in the problems regarding aniseikonia and spatial orientation and its influence on the functioning of the organism; Ogle worked on refinement of the means of measuring and correcting aniseikonia and on what became known as the “induced” size effect.

The sudden, and most untimely death of Bielschowsky in January 1940 was a severe blow to all these activities. He was not immediately replaced by a successor, and the writer of this note [Dr. Burian] attempted to carry on the responsibilities of the clinical division on an informal basis, a rather difficult task, in view of the lack or official authority to do so. To the great relief and joy of all members of the staff, Walter B. Lancaster agreed in the fall of 1940 to head up the Dartmouth Eye Institute. It was felt by the staff that his knowledge of the field, his intimate acquaintance with the organization and traditions of American ophthalmology, the weight of his word with those best qualified in the field and, last but not least, his inspiring personality not only would give a new and better standing to the Dartmouth Eye Institute in the medical world but also would bring its work to a new flowering under his leadership.

Unfortunately, this was not to be so. Lancaster had tacitly understood that he was to be the director of the Institute and that he would, as such, have a decisive influence on its policies. But when he came, he found that a reorganization had taken place. The director was now a layman, originally appointed by the president of Dartmouth College to raise funds for the Dartmouth Eye Institute and improve its administration, which had been run in a somewhat amateurish fashion. The policies were to be determined by a board of trustees, on which the medical members of the institute had no influence. Lancaster himself was given the title of chief of staff. Not one to be deterred by the matter of a title, Lancaster, in spite of his disappointment, nevertheless went to work with amazing energy, trying to put his ideas to work. But he soon found that this was by no means easy. In the general policies of the Institute his word had little weight; he could do little to influence the direction of the research work, and even in the running of the clinical division he was often thwarted. It was especially painful to him that his cherished plan for developing the Dartmouth Eye Institute as a teaching institution - for which it was eminently suited - was absolutely declined. Lancaster worked and fought hard for what he had come to achieve at a considerable sacrifice. But, finally he drew the only possible conclusion consistent with his dignity. In November 1942 he resigned and returned to his practice in Boston.

To every clear-sighted member of the staff it was obvious that it was the end of the Dartmouth Eye Institute when Lancaster was permitted to leave. Yet it seemed that this institution should not be left to disintegrate if at all possible. I [Dr. Burian] was one that hoped against hope that it might be saved. I [Dr. Burian] stayed on in the capacity of ophthalmologist in chief until July 1945, but it was a losing fight. Too many divergent interests prevented integrated progress. One after another, the members of the staff resigned. Various attempts at reorganization were unsuccessful; finally, in an announcement dated May 10, 1947, the closing of the Dartmouth Eye Institute was announced.

The above text is taken from two previously published histories of the Dartmouth Eye Institute: “The Dartmouth Eye Institute - Its Contributions to Visual Science” by Robert E. Bannon of the Bureau of Visual Science, American Optical Company, Southbridge Massachusetts (reprinted from The Optical Journal & Review of Optometry, March 1, 1957); and “The History of the Dartmouth Eye Institute” by Hermann M. Burian, M.D., Boston, Massachusetts (reprinted from the Archives of Ophthalmology, volume 40, August 1948).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Dartmouth Medical School, Eye Institute records

Identifier: DA-35
Scope and Contents The Dartmouth Eye Institute Records include lab notebooks, research data, article drafts, patents and agreements, photographs, annual reports, grant progress reports, and committee memoranda and minutes. The Records document much of the research activity on topics such as detection and treatment of disorders of the eyes (including cyclophoria and aniseikonia), refraction, binocular vision and space perception and visual sensations, as well as the development of measuring and diagnostic...