History of the Cogan Society

The Cogan Ophthalmic History Society provides a scholarly forum for presentation and discussion of research on the history of ophthalmology and its associated fields. Originally organized by David Glendenning Cogan, who had a passion for the study of the history of ophthalmology, the Society sponsors a yearly meeting.

The Cogan Ophthalmic History Society was founded in 1988.  The initial stimulus to form this group came from David Glendenning Cogan (1908-1993) who was at that time the director of neuro-ophthalmology at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.  Cogan had previously served as professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Howe Laboratory at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.  Although known as a neuro-ophthalmologist, he made important discoveries in corneal, pathologic, and retinal research.  He is regarded as one the greatest ophthalmologists of his generation, not only for his extensive research, but for his fostering and mentoring of many clinicians and basic scientists who flocked to work with him.  Cogan was inducted into the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Ophthalmology Hall of Fame.  

Cogan described himself as the “self-appointed chairman” of the organizational committee for the inaugural meeting of the Society which met in March, 1988.  He said the impetus was the upcoming centennial anniversary of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 1996.   He was inspired to found this group to bring together all persons interested in the history of ophthalmology and visual sciences to present their research, exchange ideas, and foster cooperation among members. The inaugural meeting had 26 attendees and 27 presentations.  

The society was initially called the American Ophthalmic History Society, but was renamed the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society in his honor after his death.  Since its inception, the Society has held a meeting every year. Originally, the meetings were held at the National Library of Medicine, on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, but now the venues move around various cities in the United States, hosted annually by one of the members.  Each meeting lasts a day and a half and about 25 presentations are given each year.  Topics range over the entire history of ophthalmology and allied sciences, and the diversity of subjects discussed is tremendous.  All attendees enjoy learning something fascinating and previously unknown to them.  The program’s papers are published in the Proceedings of the Society for members’ reference; many of the oral presentations are also published in the peer review journals.  There are now 70 members; membership is open to all who are interested, and attendance and presentations by ophthalmologists in training are encouraged.  The Society fosters international cooperation by inviting interested persons from around the world to participate in our meetings, and each year several people from outside the United States attend and present papers. 

 We are familiar with the usual admonitions about the value of the knowledge of history of our specialty.  All of us have benefited from “standing of the shoulders of giants” to gain a perspective of our practice and work in the field of ophthalmology.  But in addition to any practical value, the study of history is interesting by itself, and the excellence of the presentations and publications of our members reinforce that belief at every meeting.

                                                                                             Robert M. Feibel, M.D.

For further information see: 

Gittinger, JW Jr. The legacy of David G. Cogan, MD.  Survey of Ophthalmology 2000; 45:254-8 PMID 11094249

Ravin JG, Fishman RS. The Cogan Ophthalmic History Society celebrates its 22nd year.  Archives of  Ophthalmology  2009; 127:945  PMID 19597125.

David Glendenning Cogan

David Glendenning Cogan

David Glendenning Cogan

1908 - 1993

In 2001, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery inducted David Glendenning Cogan into their Ophthalmology Hall of Fame.  The following text, from that recognition, is used by permission of ASCRS:

“To have such a seminal influence on your field is given to very few people…how a man could by virtue of his mental agility, skills, and kindness catapult to the top remains an example and a lesson.” — Frederick A. Jakobiec, MD

David Glendenning Cogan was introduced to ophthalmology by his mother, herself a pioneering ophthalmologist, and was mentored by Frederick Verhoeff. At the age of 32, he succeeded Verhoeff as director of Harvard’s Howe Laboratory, which had a tremendous influence on ophthalmic research during Cogan’s 30-year stewardship. He believed the essence of investigation was originality, curiosity and perseverance, and fostered that spirit in the talented clinicians and basic scientists he recruited to Howe. He later served as director of neuro ophthalmology at the National Eye Institute. Among Cogan’s important scientific contributions were studies of the cornea, optic nerve, and ocular muscles; improved understanding of diabetic retinopathy and the effects of radiation on the lens; and several definitive textbooks. He is regarded as one of the great masters of ophthalmic pathology and neuro-ophthalmology, as well as a superb mentor who brought out the best in those around him.

David Cogan was the inspiration and founder of the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society.


Page last updated February 12, 2018