Albert Fitch: An Original Advocate and Visionary for Optometry

Albert Fitch - Who's WhoIn the world of optometry, Dr. Albert Fitch is an icon. He is a significant fixture in the history of optometry, a visionary for optometry as a career path, and a leader in forming much of its basis as a respected and advocated profession. In the state of Pennsylvania, optometrists know him as the founder of the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO), although he accomplished much more than founding the College and raising the bar in educational standards for the profession. Dr. Fitch dedicated over half a century of his life to elevating optometry through his steadfast devotion to improving the profession by expanding its pedagogical underpinning and professional standards.  

Despite his long-standing success in optometry, it was not Dr. Fitch’s initial career path. He gained his first job in 1892 at the old Philadelphia Times newspaper, where he worked as a newsboy selling papers on the street early in the morning before school. When he finished school, he went to work for Vincent McLaughlin, the manager of the Philadelphia Times. He worked there for nine years, being promoted to a member of the reporting staff. When the ownership of the company changed, Fitch was promoted again to be the circulation manager of the paper, but was soon after demoted as staff positions at the paper changed and staff from the New York Times began taking over certain roles. Fitch resigned after working there for some time longer, and had trouble securing another job at a newspaper firm.

It was this turn in Dr. Fitch’s life that made him wish he knew of another career path. After he was granted a job at an advertising company for Philadelphia’s department stores, he met a man named William Fairman, who was engaged in an optical business with a few other doctors who wished to advance their practice. While his salary at the advertising firm was decent, he decided to take a risk and jump careers, declining the job in advertising and taking part in the optical business for just $9.00 per week. It was at this point that Dr. Fitch was introduced to the world of optometry.

From this point on, Dr. Fitch advanced in this career. He was trained by Dr. Edward Gifford, a renowned ophthalmologist who saw his potential. Dr. Gifford allowed his patients to be seen by Dr. Fitch, and on off days told Dr. Fitch to practice on friends and family and learn the pathology of diseases. He later went on to own three practices, all of which were successful and run by a physician, an optometrist, and himself. He adopted the title of “Doctor,” as many medical doctors during that time took the title not from attending medical school, but from studying medicine under the supervision of a doctor.

Dr. Fitch became interested in organized optometry after gaining experience owning his own practices. It was Dr. Fitch who opposed the Medical Board’s decision of classifying optometry as a “minor branch in medicine” in the 1913 Amendment to the Medical Act of 1911. Dr. Fitch wanted optometry to be recognized as a profession and deemed the amendment as unconstitutional. He pushed for optometry to be independent from a medical doctor’s line of work and encouraged optometry to develop and grow without being managed by another profession.

First PCO LocationAside from stepping into the forefront of legislature for the profession, in 1914 Fitch had the idea of forming a society to offer professionals a place where they could study optometry in its entirety. He founded the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO) in 1919. The College became a staple in the advancement of optometry and its research, clinical care practices, and exchange of ideas among professionals looking to broaden views and develop the profession. Through Dr. Fitch’s leadership, the College was the first to be given permission to grant the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree.