Dr. William Hiram Lawson, the U.S. and Canada’s First Black Optometrist

I’d like to celebrate Black History Month by honoring black optometrists who have made a contribution to the profession. What better place to start than in the beginning. Dr. William Hiram Lawson was the first African American to have been licensed to practice optometry in the U.S. and Canada. Dr. Lawson graduated in 1912 from the Toronto School of Optometry in Toronto, Canada.¹ He set up practice in Detroit in 1916. By the time Dr. Lawson retired in the 1950s, there were still only 100 Black optometrists in the United States out of roughly 23,575 registered—only four-tenths of one percent.

I couldn’t find much more information on Dr. Lawson; apparently several of his relatives followed him into the profession including his son, Optometrist Dr. William Emmet Lawson and his nephew Dr. Lloyd Dawson.² I did uncover the existence of the William H Lawson papers³, archived at the University of Michigan which apparently contains “Biographical information and miscellanea relating to Lawson and his son, optometrist William Emmet Lawson”. If anyone is interested in learning more, especially Michigan Alum who can order copies of this through the University of Michigan Mirlyn Catalog Record, William H. Lawson papers, 1958-1992. I have provided the link in the reference section below.

Stay tuned for next week’s post! Don’t forget to subscribe on IG @FluoreSCENE_DrAlanGlazier for more great content


  1. https://optometry.berkeley.edu/celebrating-the-history-of-black-ods/#:~:text=William%20Lawson%2C%20the%20first%20Black,entry%20in%201939%20for%20Dr.
  2. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11170189/lloyd-emerson-lawson
  3. https://search.lib.umich.edu/catalog/record/990028818260106381?query=William+H+Lawson&library=All+libraries