Optometry, the measurement of the vision of the human eye and the fitting of lenses to correct or remedy defects or abnormal conditions of vision, was first recognized as a legal profession in the United States in 1901. As early as 1896, however, there were at least 105 opticians in Texas, including physicians, jewelers, pharmacists, and the proprietors of wholesale optical houses. In 1900 five jeweler-opticians in Texas organized the Texas Optical Association, later named the Texas Optometric Association. These pioneer optometrists were eager to differentiate their work from that of the less trained spectacle peddlers who sold lenses and sometimes performed faked eye surgery with the promise of miraculous cures. When the Texas Optical Association was reorganized in 1903, it joined the American Association of Opticians, and by 1909 it had over 200 members.
The Medical Practice Act of 1907 did not specifically mention optometry, but a subsequent opinion by the United States attorney general ruled that optometrists were practicing medicine unlawfully. Soon after the 1907 act was passed, TOA leaders asked the state medical association to assist in the passage of a clarifying optometric statute, but the request was refused. Legislation regulating optometrists was considered by every biennial legislature from 1909 to 1921, when Texas became the last of the forty-eight states to recognize optometric practice legally. Several amendments have been added since 1921. In 1975, for example, the Texas legislature passed a TOA-sponsored bill that requires twelve hours of continuing education annually for license renewal.
The Texas Optometrist is the official journal of the TOA. It was founded in 1923, ceased publication in 1937, and was revived in 1945 under a different format and policy. In 1987 it had a distribution of 1,634. The Woman's Auxiliary of the TOA was formed in 1927 to serve the special needs of the woman optometrist and to attract more women to the field. In 1946 the auxiliary formed the Texas Optometric Foundation, a scholarship fund to assist new graduates in optometric practice. The TOA began organizing local societies in 1943. In 1987 it had 972 members and twenty-one local societies. The organization has maintained headquarters in Austin since 1951.
With the promise of substantial financial assistance from the TOA, the University of Houston College of Optometry, the tenth optometry school in the nation, opened in 1952. The college moved into a new multimillion-dollar building in 1977. The institution offers a four-year program of instruction and clinical experience for the Doctor of Optometry degree. It also offers M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs in physiological optics for those who plan careers in research or teaching. By 1987 it had awarded 23 Ph.D. degrees, 34 M.S. degrees, and more than 1,500 O.D. degrees.