The Washington University School of Medicine formally established the Department of Ophthalmology in 1928 with Harvey J. Howard, M.D. as the first full time chairman. That same year, the funds bequeathed by Mrs. Eliza McMillan (approximately $1.2 million) became available following her death in 1915. Alongside a donation from the Oscar Johnson family of about $500,000 for the establishment of a research and teaching institute for diseases of the eye, ear, nose, and throat, Mrs. McMillan’s donation provided the funding for the construction of the McMillan Hospital. The building opened in 1930, but was unfinished until 1943. A 1961 remodel of the Eye Clinic on the 7th floor of McMillan Hospital brought about greater resources for patients and faculty alike in the department of ophthalmology. The Hospital housed the ophthalmology department’s largest patient office for 58 years.
The department’s most notable faculty member is Dr. Bernard Becker, who became head of the department in 1953. In 1954, Dr. Bernard Becker developed the first orally-administered drugs for glaucoma, which was a research interest of his over the course of his tenure at WUSM. In 1967, the first Glaucoma Research center funded by the National Institute of Health was established with Dr. Becker. Bernard Becker’s achievements extended outside the realm of ophthalmology, as he also played a major role in the design and construction of the Medical Library on the Washington University Medical Campus, which was finished in 1989, and named after him in 1995. Dr. Becker was also a major contributor to the Becker Library’s Rare Books collections, having donated his own personal collection. Those materials, the Bernard Becker Collection in Ophthalmology and Optics, are now housed in Becker Library’s Archives and Rare Books Department.
The ophthalmology department received multiple grants throughout the 1980s, including annual grants from Research to Prevent Blindness, which in 1990 had accumulated to $601,900. Additionally, in 1983 the Storz Fellowships in Ophthalmology were established due to an endowment of $880,000.
In 1995, the retina service of Washington University merged with Retina Consultants to become the Barnes Retina Institute. The same year brought the publication of Dr. Benjamin Milder’s history of the ophthalmology department, "On the Shoulders of Giants". Dr. Milder was a St. Louis area ophthalmologist. The Center for Advanced Medicine was opened in 2001, and the ophthalmology clinical faculty moved to the new facility. In 2018, a donation of $10 million from a Washington University alumna, Jane Hardesty Poole, re-established the department of ophthalmology as the John F. Hardesty Department of Ophthalmology, after Poole’s father, the ophthalmologist Dr. John F. Hardesty. A list of department chairs from the beginning of the department in 1928 to the present is below.
1928-1933: Harvey J. Howard, M.D.
1933-1953: Dr. Lawrence T. Post
1953-1988: Dr. Bernard Becker
1988-1999: Dr. Henry Kaplan
1999-2014: Dr. Michael Kass
2014-Current: Todd P. Margolis, M.D., PhD