Do you know who invented the lensometer you use every day? Dr. Anna Estelle Glancy—that’s right, a woman. She was granted the patent for “a lens testing instrument” in 1929. Glancy didn’t set out to become an optician, though. Her doctorate in 1913 from the University of California at Berkeley was in astronomy. Although she worked at an observatory in Argentina for five years, opportunities for a woman astronomer were virtually nonexistent then. In 1918, Glancy returned to the U.S. and because of her mathematical expertise, found work with Dr. E. D. Tillyer at the American Optical research lab (now part of Carl Zeiss Vision).
Glancy worked as a geometric optician with Tillyer for nearly 10 years, doing the mathematical work to develop the Tillyer corrected curve lens. (Note that it wasn’t named the Glancy lens or even the Tillyer-Glancy lens.) Glancy didn’t stop there, however. She was granted a patent for the first progressive lens design in 1923. She remained at American Optical for more than 30 years and was granted a total of 13 patents, including several for various lens designs and a “lens grinding machine.” As of 1950, she was still the only woman lens designer in the world.
Glancy’s story (you can learn more at the Optical Heritage Museum website) encouraged me to learn more about women in our field. In my early days as an optician a few decades ago, men dominated the field. In fact, I had to stand on a step stool to use the edger and drop ball tester (a la Norma Rae) because the lab had been designed for a man’s height. Now, according to DATAUSA, women make up more than 76 percent of opticians in the U.S. That said, they earn on average 36 percent less than men. Why?
One reason may be that Glancy aside, women are relative latecomers to the field. DATAUSA noted that experience was a factor in higher wages. Having been in the field longer overall, men may have or be perceived to have more experience. But that wouldn’t seem to hold up in licensed states where the licensing criteria is the same for everyone. Or is it the mechanical nature of the field? Are men perceived to be more adept at working with tools and instruments? From time to time, we can still have a patient who needs an eyeglass repair or adjustment tell us to “get the man to do it.” There are many other reasons, I’m sure. Still, so many women are making great strides for our profession. I hope only that by not accepting less than they deserve by virtue of their skills and expertise, women will be the ones to close that pay gap.
Consider Glancy’s work and learn more about the development of ophthalmic lenses with our CE “The Evolution of Single Vision” at 2020mag.com/ce.