In 1915 Gladys Benson (1905-2000), daughter of John William and Elizabeth Settle Benson of Unity and Rockville, acquired a pair of spectacles in Washington, D.C.

This is a delightful little set: glasses case, with her name written inside; a small pair of gold-rimmed glasses; and prescription card. Miss Benson, who according to a relative did not wear glasses as an adult (at least not in front of anyone), saved her ten-year-old self’s eyeglasses for 77 years before donating them to the Society. We have several pairs of glasses of varying ages in the collections, some in (possibly original) cases, most with identified owners/wearers, but Miss Benson’s are the whole set. (If only we had a photo of her wearing them!) The optometrist’s card requests the owner to “kindly keep this record,” and Miss Benson obliged.

The optometrist was Dr. Edwin H. Silver, and the glasses were purchased from the Columbia Optical Company. Both offices (according to the addresses on the card and on the case) were located at 908 F Street – the case specifies “south side” – in northwest D.C. The glasses are “Silver Lens” brand. After learning that Gladys apparently did not wear glasses, I wondered if these weren’t original, but they do seem to be sized appropriately for a ten year old girl (four inches from hinge to hinge).

There were many doctors in Montgomery County in the early 20th century, including some specialists, but a number of County residents seem to have preferred to make their way into D.C. for their more specialized needs. Diaries are one way to learn about the medical habits of our predecessors; for example, Caroline Farquhar of Norbeck wrote on November 15, 1902, “Alice and Aunt E. went to Wash., to see about A[lice]’s eyes” and Catherine Dawson of Rockville noted on April 26, 1922, “At 2:00 I went to Washington to see a chiropodist about my foot.”  Miss Benson’s carefully saved prescription card and glasses case are another way to get at that information. Artifacts are primary sources, too!

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