The New England College of Optometry was founded by ophthalmologist Dr. August Klein in 1894 as the Klein School of Optics. The Klein School was one of the earliest formal training programs in optics and refraction in the US and was located at 2 Rutland Street in downtown Boston. The Klein School’s first program was a one year program that centered on optics, anatomy, and refraction. Seven instructors taught all of the program’s courses, including Dr. Klein, who also served as President. As optometry became a more established profession, the school’s name changed in 1901 to the Massachusetts School of Optometry. Shortly after, sixty private schools of optometry were founded within the US.
Over the next fifty years, the field of optometry and the College experienced great changes. By 1905, the school’s enrollment had expanded. At that time, a full 10 week course cost a student $75. In 1909, the school began offering a two year program and in the same year, the National Board of State Examiners in Optometry was established. In 1912, new laws began to require licensure and registration in the Commonwealth. The newly-formed Board of Registration of Optometry required that a person be at least 21 years old in order to be licensed to examine eyes. As a result, the Mass School of Optometry began requiring that students be at least 19 years old when entering its two year program and also required incoming students to have completed four years of high school and to possess “good moral character.”
In 1916, the school opened a new location at 168 Massachusetts Avenue in Back Bay, near what is today’s Berklee College of Music. By 1922, yearly tuition was $87.50 and the class size was roughly 50, despite being housed in a small space on the second floor. The school was above a grocery store and featured just two classrooms with blackboards and an odd assortment of chairs. Only five faculty members taught the entire program. In 1933, the school moved to a much bigger space at 1112 Boylston Street, between Hemenway Street and Massachusetts Avenue. With the new space, the school began its first patient care programs. Its first patients were boys off the streets of Boston’s West End, beginning the College’s tradition of caring for underserved populations.
In 1934, the school’s program length was changed from two to three years. By 1936, all accredited schools of optometry had changed their requirements to three years as well. In the 1930s, the student council was formed, as was the basketball team. The class that entered in 1936 was the last class to take the three year program and included four women. In the same year, Dr. August Klein, the founder of the school, died and his son, Dr. Theodore Klein, was named President. By 1939, the first four year program was offered and the administrative offices, labs, and lecture rooms were housed on the second and third floors of 1112 Boylston Street, with the clinic next door. A few years later, the clinic moved again, this time to 472 Commonwealth Avenue near Kenmore Square.