A history of Dr. W.H. Bates,
gathered from various sources.
A successful eye-surgeon
In 1885 William Horatio
Bates graduated with a medical degree from the College of Physicians
and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York. Dr. Bates
became a successful and well-respected eye surgeon in New York,
where he was an instructor of ophthalmology at the New York
Postgraduate Medical School and Hospital from 1886 to 1891.
Dr. Bates became increasingly
dissatisfied with conventional ophthalmological practice, and
he consequently began his own research into eyesight disorders.
He had observed patients with a refractive error (e.g.
short or long sight) that seemed to spontaneously change for
the better, sometimes to the point of a complete reversal of
This led him to question one of the most basic assumptions of
the accepted practice of ophthalmology; namely, that once symptoms
of refractive error were present in a particular patient, then
nothing could be done other than prescribing glasses. Dr. Bates
was not satisfied with the prevailing theory of accommodation
(how the eye focuses). The prevailing theory of accommodation
was, and still is, that the curvature of the lens of the eye
is the only part responsible for accommodation and that it is
its inflexibility that causes failing sight.
For years Dr. Bates felt there was something wrong about the
procedure of prescribing glasses to patients who came to him
about their eyes. "Why," he
asked, "if glasses are correct, must they continually be
strengthened because the eyes, under their influence, have weakened?
Logically, if a medicine is good, the dose should be weakened
as the patient grows stronger."
Dr. Bates gave up his lucrative practice and went into the laboratory
at Columbia University to study eyes as they had never been
studied before. Disregarding all he had learned in textbooks,
he experimented on eyes with an open mind. He ran experiments
on animals and examined thousands of pairs of eyes. He
never restricted himself to the usual eye examination room,
but carried his retinoscope with him, inspecting the refractive
state of eyes of both people and animals in many different situations.
He refracted eyes of people when they were happy and sad,
angry and afraid. Much of his time was spent with children attempting
to discover the cause of eye disorders.
His retinoscopic findings indicated that the refractive state
of our eyes is not the static condition textbooks reported,
but varies tremendously with our emotional state.
Bates cured his own 'stone-hard presbyopia'
In his 1920 book Perfect
Sight Without Glasses, Dr. Bates writes about his own
eyesight improvement. He had been told by various eye
specialists that his lens was "as hard as a stone"
and that "no one can do anything for you." But
through studying his own case intensively, and finding a way
to not strain his eyes when wanting to read, he regained an
accommodative range of 14 inches. This means he had regained
the ability to focus on objects between 4 and 18 inches from
his eyes, so he was no longer suffering with presbyopic blur.
The Bates Method
He published an account of a little girl who developed temporary
myopia when she lied to him. That fact seemed very significant
to him as it was consistent with other findings of myopia that
people tend to become myopic when they feel apprehensive. Dr.
Bates found that the eye is never constantly the same, that
refractive error changed momentarily, that mental strain and
tension increased it and relaxation decreased it. His
conclusions were that imperfect sight was not possible without
first a mental strain, that eyes are tough to what happens from
the exterior, that they could mend rapidly from scratches, bumps,
and even burns, but could be blinded by mental strain.
Dr. Bates went on to formulate a new set of theories about eyesight
and he developed what later became known as 'the Bates Method'
to help people to improve their sight.
According to Dr. Bates, poor eyesight is caused primarily by
1. Stress or mental strain, 2. Poor vision habits, and
3. Wearing glasses.
Ophthalmologists at the New York Postgraduate Medical School
and Hospital put glasses on myopic doctors and Dr. Bates then
had those doctors remove their glasses and cured them of myopia.
Dr. Roosa, the head of the institution, did not accept
what Dr. Bates had been doing and he expelled Bates from the
institution in 1891.
In 1896 Dr. Bates resigned his hospital appointments and began
to engage in experimental work. In 1902 he left New York
and began to successfully implement his methods for preventing
myopia in schoolchildren at the public schools of Grand Forks,
North Dakota. In 1910 he returned to New York and worked
as attending physician at the Harlem Hospital in New York City.
He soon began implementing his methods for the prevention
of myopia in some public schools in New York City. At
the Harlem Hospital he began to work together with Emily Lierman,
who had improved her eyesight using his methods (they married
in 1928). They held free 'Clinic days' several times per
week, usually having long lines of people waiting to be helped.
Between 1886 and 1923 Bates published 30 medical artlcles, most
of which appeared in the New York Medical Journal. About half
of these articles were later compiled into a small undated paperback
book called Reprints.
In 1891 Dr. Bates published
his first article on the elimination of myopia. While
carrying on his experiments he developed a method of photographing
the eye to reveal changes in surface curvature as the eye functioned.
This work is discussed in "A Study of Images Reflected from
the Cornea, Iris, Lens, and Sclera" (NY Medical Journal,
May 18, 1918). His research on the influence of memory
upon the function of vision is described in "Memory
as an Aid to Vision" (NY Medical Journal, May 24, 1919).
In 1919 Dr. Bates began to publish monthly issues of his Better
Eyesight magazine which was to continue for 11 years.
In 1920 he published his book, Perfect Sight Without Glasses,
also called The Cure of Imperfect Sight by Treatment Without
(download the original 1920 book for
free or buy
a first edition hardcover book)
In July 1921 the American Journal of Clinical Medicine published
an article titled: 'A Clinical and experimental study of physiological
optics with a view to the cure of imperfect sight without glasses'.
This article is a great introduction to Dr. Bates' theories,
and I recommend reading this. (Here
is a free download of this article.)
In 1923 the Clinic was discontinued at the Harlem Hospital as
Bates left the hospital and began holding a "Clinic Day"
at his own private practice on Saturdays. He continued
to treat patients constantly for practically all forms of imperfect
sight and tended to work 10 hours per day, 7 days per week.
After his death
Dr. Bates died on 10 July 1931, at the age of 70. He died
at his home in New York during a polio epidemic. In 1940
his wife Emily republished his book and added a useful chapter
at the end with suggestions on how to use the Bates method.
After legal problems of other teachers, such as Margaret Corbett's
court case in 1940/1941, Emily published an edited version of
the book in 1943 and called it: Better eyesight without glasses.
This version left out much of the original text which
made it more difficult to understand what Dr. Bates intended
to convey to the reader.
Without easy access to the Better
Eyesight magazines which did explain the method in great detail, the Bates
Method became misunderstood by many people. These days it is often associated
with doing eye exercises. This is not what Dr. Bates taught. He
recommended not eye exercises but the use of relaxed natural vision habits
all day long.
Today there are professional teachers throughout the world who have been
trained in the Bates Method. See Natural Vision
Educators for a list of Bates Method teachers.
For in-depth information about Dr. Bates and the Bates method
I suggest reading his original 1920 book (available
for free here or first
editions for sale here) and his Better Eyesight magazines,
Learn the Bates Method.
If you'd like to overcome your own blurry vision, check out the classes
offered by Visions of Joy.