Norma Bertha Elles, ophthalmologist and settlement-house organizer, was born in Evansville, Indiana, on June 30, 1884, to Jacob and Caroline Elles. After finishing high school in 1902 she attended the University of Michigan, where she received an A.B. and M.D. in 1906. Michigan later awarded her an honorary doctor of science degree in recognition of her work on diseases of the eye. After an internship at the Women's Hospital in Chicago, she entered general practice in Houston. With the encouragement of physicians in Houston and Chicago, she returned to Illinois for four years to complete a residency at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary. After a further year of study in Vienna and at the Sorbonne in Paris, Dr. Elles returned to Houston in 1912 with a specialty in ophthalmology. She remained in Houston until her retirement in 1952 but spent many of her summers in Europe pursuing studies in her field. From 1943 to 1952 she also served as professor of ophthalmology at Baylor Medical School.
During one of her summer trips to London, Elles visited various settlement houses in that city. Upon her return to Houston, she helped establish a similar institution for the Ripley Foundation. She served for many years as one of the house's trustees. She was also a member of the Houston Settlement Association and a member of the board of directors of the Florence Crittenden Home in Houston.
In 1956 and 1957 Elles traveled to Haiti to assist in the organization of the Ophthalmologic Clinic at the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Hospital. Using her own photographs as illustrations, she described the hospital and its services in a 1958 issue of the American Journal of Ophthalmology. She was a member of the American Medical Women's Association and president of the Houston branch of that organization in 1945. She was elected an honorary member of the Texas State Medical Association (seeTEXAS MEDICAL ASSOCIATION) in 1953. She was a member of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, and the American Ophthalmological Society. Upon her retirement she moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to be near her family. In 1959 she returned to Houston for a visit and had a heart attack. She died on January 12, 1959, in a Houston hospital.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Patricia L. Jakobi,
“Elles, Norma Bertha,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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