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History of Salus/PCO


Today the University is a diversified, globally recognized, health professions university that offers a wide range of accredited post-graduate and professional degree programs. Currently, the University has more than 1,200 students and more than 14,000 alumni worldwide.

PCO founder, Dr. Albert Fitch, was considered a visionary by his peers and a revolutionary by others in the healthcare community. His goal in establishing the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (our original name) as a nonprofit educational institution in 1919 was to create a professional school of optometry comparable to those of medicine and dentistry. His desire was to “obtain a higher standard of proficiency and to enlighten the public mind on the subject and science of optometry and its relationship to the conservation of vision.” That desire to set and maintain a higher standard of education is evident today at Salus University, where the institution continues to break new ground with creative and innovative curricula for all of its degree programs.

The name Salus University may still be young, however, the history and reputation of our founding institution - the Pennsylvania College of Optometry - is known and respected around the world. Changes in the nation’s healthcare delivery system are significantly altering every facet of our diversified medical and health science professions. Central to the Salus mission is keeping pace with the rapidly expanding healthcare issues, setting national trends and standards and being the leader in providing the nation’s top health science, education and rehabilitation professionals.




American Association of Opticians later to become the American Optometric Association (AOA) is established.


Minnesota is the first state to pass an optometry law.


Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rules that optometry is not a branch of medicine and will not be regulated by a medical board composed of physicians.

Philadelphia City Hall1917

A charter is granted to the Pennsylvania College of Optometrists signing off on the Pennsylvania Optometry Bill authorizing the licensing of optometrists by the commonwealth.

1917 - Albert Fitch 1917

Dr. Albert Fitch fights to legitimize a new profession. The medical establishment opposes optometrists serving as primary vision care providers. His efforts set the stage for professional change.

Learn More About Dr. Fitch

1919 PSCO Opens 1919

The Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO) opens its doors on October 6, 1919 at the 1800 block of Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia. The entering class of 33 students is the largest freshman class to enter any school or college of optometry up to that time. The program courses are organized as a three-year night school taught by a faculty of six. The curriculum is based on biological sciences, unusual for that time. Tuition is set at $150 for the academic year. The following year, both a three-year night class and a two-year day class are accepted for admission. The Pennsylvania College of Optometrists, Pennsylvania State Optical Society and Philadelphia Society of Optometrists hold mass meetings and approve the founding of a college of optometry.

PSCO Throwback


1920 - Clinic Room 1920

The first clinical facilities of the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry officially open on May 6, 1920. The optometric and ophthalmological clinics each occupy one room in the original College building at 1809 Spring Garden Street and operate two afternoons a week.

1922 Commencement 1922

In June 1922, the inaugural class of 26 graduates attend the very first Commencement Exercises held at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., in Philadelphia. Entrance requirements are raised to include graduation from a four-year high school course.


The Pennsylvania State College of Optometry becomes the first to confer the degree of Doctor of Optometry. The program of study is increased in length from two to three years.

More PCO Firsts

1924- Brandywine1924

PSCO completes the construction of a building extension to house the new clinical facility located at 1810 Brandywine Street. Patients are examined every afternoon in eleven refracting rooms and one ophthalmological treatment room. The clinical faculty includes the director, two chiefs and eight unpaid assistant chiefs. Students in their final year complete all of the refracting and fitting of eyeglasses under the direction of the faculty. Patients are referred to the clinic by social welfare agencies. Optical manufacturers and laboratories donate both lenses and frames. When a prescription is ordered, the glasses are fabricated by students and dispensed to the patient at no charge. Night classes are discontinued.


1930 - Post Graduate Courses 1930

Post graduate courses are instituted and the College provides one of the earliest formal courses in contact lenses.

1932 - PSCO Move1932

PSCO’s growth requires a move to a large, 32-acre campus in the Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. The Spring Garden Street building is used solely as a clinical facility.

Optometry Graduates1935

PSCO is the first school of optometry to require a four year education. The program of study increases from three to four years.


1941 - Board 1941

PSCO is accredited by the Council on Optometric Education.


Indiana becomes the first state not to prohibit optometrists from using diagnostic pharmaceutical agents.


Lawrence Fitch, OD ‘36, son of Albert Fitch, becomes the College’s dean. PSCO entrance requirements are raised to include one year of pre-optometric college credits.

Who's Who: Lawrence Fitch, OD '36

1949 - Contact Lens1949

PSCO is the first college or school of optometry to offer a contact lens course for practitioners, currently known as continuing education. Contact lenses are incorporated into the curriculum and the College opens a contact lens clinic - the first such facility in any college or school of optometry.


1950 Spring Garden Street 1950

The Spring Garden Street Clinic is renovated and rededicated.


A special program is established that provides students with experience in geriatric care at Riverview, a residence for the elderly.


PSCO is the first independent healthcare school of any kind to be recognized by a regional accrediting body, PSCO obtains accreditation from the Middle States Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges.

1954 - Crozier 1954

Dr. John Crozier, OD ’48 is the first Alumni Association representative elected to the Board of Trustees.

Read more about Dr. Crozier


Entrance requirements are raised to include two years of pre-optometric college work in specified subjects, thereby formalizing the six-year educational program for the first time.


PSCO develops a satellite clinic at the Philadelphia County House of Correction.


The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania authorizes PSCO to grant the Bachelor of Science Degree.



Dr. Albert Fitch dies and his son, Dr. Lawrence Fitch, ’36 becomes the second president of PSCO. His legacy includes an exceptional time of growth, including an expanded general optometric clinic and the construction of new College facilities on the Oak Lane campus (1970), (eventually Fitch and Crozier Hall) and the College’s first apartment houses, Powell Hall (1967) and Wentka Hall (1973). The new administrative and classroom facilities replace the stately gray stone building that was fondly known as “Old Main.”


The College receives its first appropriation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The College becomes the first independent optometry college to receive financial aid through legislation.


The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approves the awarding of the Honorary Doctor of Science degree.

1964 new name 1964

The Pennsylvania State College of Optometry changes its name to Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO).


PCO opens a second optometric clinic at 5601 N. Broad Street. The two clinical Facilities - Spring Garden Street and the North Broad Street clinics - provide greatly enhanced general optometric services, as well as contact lens and low vision services.


The first student apartment house, Powell Hall, opens.

More About Dr. Morey Powell



The new academic buildings at the Oak Lane Campus, Fitch and Crozier Halls are completed with the assistance of grants and loans from Federal and state funds.


Rhode Island becomes the first state to enact legislation allowing optometrists to use diagnostic pharmaceutical agents.

1972 - Norm Wallis 1972

Dr. Norman Wallis is selected as the third College president. Dr. Wallis re-energizes the College with a new curriculum and the building of The Eye Institute, a $5.1 million clinical education and patient care facility. Dr. Wallis also expands the Board of Trustees and implemented the “Full Cost of Education Concept,” establishing agreements with surrounding states to contribute financial support to the cost of the education of their residents—agreements that still exist today.


The new curriculum requires students to complete clinical training not only at the clinical facilities of the College, but also at a clinical practice in the field. Eventually the curriculum requires students to complete multiple externships that offer clinical experiences in varied optometric settings across the country. The second apartment house, Wentka Hall, opens.


PCO receives approval from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to award the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Pennsylvania enacts legislation allowing optometrists to use diagnostic pharmaceutical agents.

1975 Entrance Requirements1975

Entrance requirements are raised to include three years of pre-optometric college work. The College becomes one of the earliest recipients of a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services for recruitment, retention, and enrichment of minority students, paving the way for minority student representation within PCO and now Salus to grow.


West Virginia becomes the first state to enact legislation allowing optometrists to use therapeutic pharmaceutical agents.

1975 Entrance Requirements1978

The Eye Institute (TEI), PCO’s main clinical facility, opens and is the first comprehensive, inter-disciplinary clinical facility of its kind for both patients and education – it is the first optometric care facility in the nation to use a multidisciplinary approach using optometrists, ophthalmologists, physicians, low vision rehabilitation specialists, students and other healthcare professionals working together for comprehensive vision care services. Post-graduate residency programs for Doctors of Optometry include advanced clinical competencies in primary care, pediatric/binocular vision, vision rehabilitation, contact lenses, ocular disease and refractive eye care. William Feinbloom Vision Rehabilitation Center opens at TEI.

A Closer Look: The Eye Institute

1979 0 Wolfberg 1979

Melvin D. Wolfberg, OD ’51 becomes the fourth President of the College, in which he leads the dynamic growth of the College’s research programs. His tenure includes the historic affiliation with Hahnemann University and the establishment of the Irving Bennett Business and Practice Management Center.

Read More about Dr. Wolfberg


1983 Vision Rehabilitation1983

PCO is the first institution in the country to offer a graduate degree and certificate program in Vision Rehabilitation. That new degree program - and the three others that follow – means that PCO is no longer a single-purpose institution. Today, our College of Education and Rehabilitation is the only institution to offer four degree and certificate programs in the following areas: Low Vision Rehabilitation; Orientation and Mobility; Education for Teachers of Children with Visual and Multiple Disabilities; and Vision Rehabilitation Therapy (formerly Rehabilitation Teaching).

1983 Optometric Technician Program1983

An Optometric Technician Program is established in conjunction with Manor Junior College – this program was discontinued in 1987. The College augments its curriculum with a Master of Science in Low Vision Rehabilitation.

1984 Masters1984

The Department of Graduate Studies adds the certificate program for teaching children who are blind or visually impaired. The department adds a Master of Education in this area the following year.

1985 The Institute for the Visually Impaired1985

The Institute for the Visually Impaired is established to coordinate all of the educational, clinical, rehabilitation and research activities of the College devoted to the problems of partially sighted. Optometry students are able to earn a dual degree of Doctor of Optometry and Master of Science in Low Vision Rehabilitation.

1988 The Irving Bennett Business and Practice Management Center1988

The Irving Bennett Business and Practice Management Center, along with the Cornea and Specialty Contact Lens Center, are established. PCO and Hahnemann University School of Medicine establish an educational affiliation agreement.

Tom Lewis 1989

Dr. Thomas Lewis, ’70 becomes the fifth president of the College. Dr. Lewis leads several successful fundraising campaigns, creates new academic programs (Audiology, Physician Assistants, Masters in Public Health, Occupational Therapy, Doctor of Philosophy), establishes a new campus in Elkins Park, builds a student center, advances the institution to University status and renovates The Eye Institute.

A Stumble into the Right Direction: Dr. Thomas Lewis


1990 Light and Laser Inst.1990

The Hafter Family Light and Laser Institute is established and the College acquires an Excimer Laser.


The Special Populations Assessment and Rehabilitation Center, as well as the right to confer the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree are established.

1991 The Department of Graduate Studies1991

The Department of Graduate Studies establishes the Master of Science degree and certificate program in Orientation and Mobility.


The Center for International Studies is created at PCO.

1992 Master of Science degree and certificate program1992

The Department of Graduate Studies establishes the Master of Science degree and certificate program in Rehabilitation Teaching.

1995 MsC1995

PCO is the first optometry college to graduate a Master of Science in Clinical Optometry program composed solely of international practitioners. Today, nearly 1,000 international practitioners are alumni.


Pennsylvania enacts legislation allowing optometrists to use therapeutic pharmaceutical agents. PCO becomes the administrative headquarters of the World Council of Optometry and Dr. Anthony Di Stefano ‘73 becomes its Executive Director.

More About Dr. Di Stefano


The College sets its sights on the 21st century. In 1995 a campus-wide functional space analysis is completed. Critical space limitations are identified at the Oak Lane Campus, including classroom and lab capacity, the library, and parking. After studying several alternatives, a solution is found: The Breyer Office Park in Elkins Park, Pa. The new campus is purchased with a $13.5 million dollar loan and $3.5 million from PCO. The bank requires PCO to raise $1 million before it releases $3 million to be used for renovations. PCO alums answer the call and $1 million is raised in a year. Renovations start in 1997.

History of the Elkins Park Campus


The College moves to an 11.5 acre main campus in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park – the campus is located less than three and a half miles from The Eye Institute, which remains as the Oak Lane campus today. With the assistance of State Representative (now U.S. representative) Dwight Evans, the College sells the academic and administrative buildings to the Community College of Philadelphia.


2001 - Audiology2000

PCO becomes the first professional school to establish a Doctor of Audiology degree program. The first residential class numbered seven; the current entering class has 32 students. The PCO School of Audiology is founded by Dr. George S. Osborne and offers both a four-year residential Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree and an online bridge AuD program for licensed practitioners. The Board of Trustees establishes the George S. Osborne College of Audiology in memory of Dr. Osborne, who passes away shortly after the first residential AuD class graduates in 2007.

Learn more about Dr. Osborne

Early 2000s- TEI LocationsEarly 2000s

The Eye Institute opens two satellite facilities in the Mt. Airy and Strawberry Mansion sections of Philadelphia in an effort to expand patient care in the community.

2001 - AuD Grads 2001

First graduates from the School of Audiology at PCO with the Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree. Completely restructures optometry curriculum, Curriculum 2000, is implemented.

PEI Opening 20042004

In November 2004, the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI) opened its doors as the on-campus clinical facility for the University’s Osborne College of Audiology. PEI offers an array of comprehensive hearing and vestibular services and provides audiology students with a clinical training ground to learn patient care under the guidance of experienced faculty.

2005 - Status2005

Pennsylvania College of Optometry applies to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for university status

2007- PA Class 2007

The College welcomes its inaugural class of 20 Physician Assistant (PA) students – the anatomy-based Master of Medical Science degree curriculum also becomes one of only five statewide schools that provide students with a full body onsite cadaver lab. Two years later, the program graduates its first class of PA students.

2008 - Salus University 2008

On July 1, PCO establishes Salus University.

Feature: Salus University - 10 Years of Living Up to its Name



A Master of Public Health degree (MPH) program, designed to bridge the public health training gap in the areas of optometry, audiology, blindness and visual impairment, and physician assistant studies - professions currently under-represented in the public health workforce - is launched.

2010 - East Falls 2010

The Eye Institute’s Strawberry Mansion The Eye Institute’s Strawberry Mansion satellite clinic moves to a newly renovated space in East Falls.

2011 Renovation 2011

Completion of an $11.2 million renovation - upgrades include a modern appearance, state-of-the-art equipment, more enhanced optometric technology and integrated electronic medical records.

2012 - OT 2012

A doctoral and master’s degree in Occupational Therapy program welcomes its first class. The University’s first PhD degree program in Biomedicine is offered.

A Closer Look: Occupational Therapy at Salus

2012 Chestnut Hill 2012

The Eye Institute’s Mt. Airy satellite clinic relocates to a new and enhanced space in Chestnut Hill.

2013 Mittelman2013

Dr. Michael H. Mittelman ‘80 becomes the sixth president. A retired Rear Admiral and former Deputy Surgeon General of the US Navy with more than 30 years of inter-professional healthcare administration experience, Dr. Mittelman is a 1980 graduate of PCO and holds a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) from the University of Alabama–Birmingham.

Full Steam Ahead: Dr. Michael H. Mittelman, President

2015 SLI and SLP 2015

In July, the University’s Master of Science (MS) degree program in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) was awarded Candidate for Accreditation status by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The Speech-Language Pathology master’s degree program welcomes its inaugural class of students in August.

A Closer Look: Speech-Language Pathology Program

2015 - SLI Opens 2015

In July 2015, the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) opened its doors for client care. SLI was established as a clinical training site for speech-language pathology (SLP) students in the University’s College of Education and Rehabilitation. SLI offers treatment and therapy services for speech, language, feeding and swallowing difficulties.

2015 Neuro-Ophthalmic Disease residency program2015

The two-year Neuro-Ophthalmic Disease residency program starts in 2015 as well. This residency program is fully accredited by 2017, prior to the inaugural residents’ completion of the program.

The Neuro Legacy

University's 2016 Doctorate of Occupational Therapy2016

The first class for the University's Doctorate of Occupational Therapy begins.

2017 Signing2017

The University partners with the Community College of Philadelphia to bring an Ophthalmic Technician Proficiency Certificate Program to Philadelphia.


The Eye Institute celebrates 40 years of service to the Oak Lane community while Salus University celebrates its tenth anniversary as a multidisciplinary institution.


Salus University continues a legacy that began 100 years ago in Philadelphia when our founding College, the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), was established. Please join us in celebration at our Centennial Gala on April 27, 2019.