On January 26, 2022, Dr. William E. Cochran presented “A History of Optometry in Mississippi” as part of the History Is Lunch series.
“The origins of optic science date to the discovery of glass some 5,000 years ago,” said Cochran, author of the book Optometry in Mississippi, 1920-2020. “The optometer was invented in the 1750s to measure strength of vision, and in 1784 Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals.”
By the late nineteenth century, most people diagnosing vision issues and fitting people with eyeglasses were not doing so in medical offices. Rather, they usually provided those services in jewelry shops and called themselves opticians. The need to regulate the industry led to the creation of the professional practice of optometry in the United States in 1898. Though the profession existed in Mississippi since the early 1900s—the first meeting of the Mississippi Optical Society took place in 1906—the state would not enact laws regulating the profession until the passage of the Optometry Act of 1920.
“Through a century of professional growth and development; the men and women calling themselves optometrists have shown a commitment to the health and visual welfare of the citizens of Mississippi,” said Cochran. “Optometry has a rich history in the state.”
Kosciusko native William E. Cochran served as president of Southern College of Optometry from 1984 to 2007. After completing his pre-optometry requirements at the University of Southern Mississippi, Cochran earned his BS and Doctor of Optometry from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corp from 1968 to 1970, then operated a private practice in Kosciusko from 1970 to 1983. Cochran is a past president of the Mississippi Optometric Association, and received the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into the American Optometric Association’s National Hall of Fame in 2012.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state's past. The hour-long programs are held in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building at 222 North Street in Jackson.