For Women’s’ History Month we would like to honor Estelle Glancy, one of the most influential women in the optical industry.
Like many industries at the turn of the century, optical was dominated by men. The field was in great need of an individual to break down barriers and lead a new generation of women into the industry. For optical, that person was Estelle Glancy, whose long and influential career throughout the early 20th century defined many of the standards eyewear professionals rely on today.
From Astronomy to Optical
Glancy began her studies at Massachusetts’ Wellesley College, where she studied mathematics with an interest in astronomy. However, upon graduation, Glancy was dismayed to find that no observatory would hire her. Faced with this obstacle, Glancy instead applied to the Astronomical Department at the University of California – Berkeley. Berkeley accepted her application – on the condition that she train as a “computer” writing out extensive calculations before automation of such processes existed, and worked toward a PhD. By that point, no woman had ever received a doctorate from UC Berkley’s Astronomy department.
A Career at the AOC
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Glancy worked briefly at an observatory in Argentina before accepting an unconventional opportunity to join the American Optical Company in 1918. Located in Southenbridge, Massachusetts, AOC was the largest eyewear supplier in the United States at the time. While there, Glancy met Dr. Edgar D. Tillyer – a fellow astronomy student – who recognized her talent and recruited her for a project to develop a lens that resolved “marginal astigmatism.” “Marginal astigmatism” was the phenomenon of blurring at the edges of eyeglass lenses, making peripheral vision cloudy while the center was clear.
Glancy worked on these lenses for the “greater part of ten years” and produced 13 volumes of ophthalmic calculations. The resulting lenses, ironically called the “Tillyer lens” despite Glancy’s underlying calculations, was launched in the 1920’s and quickly became the industry standard for eyeglass lenses.
Over the course of her career in optical, Glancy anticipated many innovations that would become ubiquitous in the field. In 1923, she filed a patent for progressive lenses, half a century before they would become a widely used alternative for bifocals and trifocals. Glancy’s calculations would also prove influential in the development of telescope and camera lenses. Additionally, the lensometer – which is used to measure the power of lenses in eyecare practices even today – was developed by Glancy. Though her impact on the optical industry is quite self-evident, only in recent years has Glancy been recognized for her work.