Biography of William H. Bates

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biorgraphy, vol 24, pp. 383-4.

BATES, William Horatio, physician, was born in Newark, N.J., Dec. 23, 1860, the son of Charles and Amelia (Halsey) Bates. He was graduated A.B. at Cornell university in 1881 and received his medical degree at the college of physicians and surgeons in 1885. Establishing a practice in New York city, he served for a time as clinical assistant at the Manhattan Eye and Ear hospital and was attending physician at Bellevue hospital, 1886-88, the New York Eye infirmary, the Northern dispensary and the Northeastern dispensary, 1886-98. He was an instructor in ophthalmology at the New York Post-Graduate medical school and hospital, 1886-91. In his professional work Bates at first devoted his attention to the various organs of the head but finally restricted himself to the eye alone. He resigned his hospital appointments in 1896 and for several years engaged in experimental work. After practicing for several years at Grand Forks, N.Dak., he returned to New York and was attending physician at the Harlem hospital during 1907-22. In his researches Bates proved exerimentally that the normal fixation of the eye is central, but never stationary, and the technique developed by him for treating imperfect eye sight without the use of glasses was based on this principle. From a physiological point of view, this technique was but the practical application of the psychological theory of the field of consciousness, which is predicated as a point of focus, the so-called point of apperception, surrounded by a field of increasing vagueness. His method was to develop central fixation by training the patient in the dual art of relaxing and focusing the eyes. While carrying on his experiments he developed a method of photographing the eye to reveal changes in surface curvature as the eye functioned. The work is discussed in "A Study of Images Reflected from the Cornea, Iris, Lens, and Sclera" (N.Y. Med. Jour., May 18, 1918). His researches on the influence of memory upon the function of vision are described in "Memory as an Aid to Vision" (N.Y.Med. Jour., May 24, 1919). In 1894, while seeking to determine the therapeutic effect on the eye of the active principles of the ductless glands, he discovered the stringent and hemostatic properties of the aqueous extract of the suprarenal capsule, later commercialized as adrenalin. In 1896 he announced this discovery in a paper read before the New York Academy of Medicine. He introduced a new operation for the relief of persistent deafness in 1886, consisting of puncturing or incising the ear drum membrane. He published a book, "Perfect Eyesight Without Glasses" (1919), which he had to issue at his own expense, expounding his theories which were for the most part contrary to established ophthalmological practice. He also wrote articles describing his methods. He was a member of the New York State Medical Society and was affiliated with the Dutch Reformed church. He was fond of sports, especially of tennis in which he won several awards and while living in North Dakota was state champion. He was an excellent runner and at the advanced age of fifty-eight was still able to win a prize. Bates was a quiet, modest man, a serious student of literature and astronomy, with a fondness for children. He was married three times: (1) in 1883, to Edith Kitchell of New York city, by whom he had one son, Halsey Bates; she died in 1886; (2) to Margaret Crawford, who died in 1927, leaving two children, William Crawford, and Milo Bates, wife of Charles McComb; and (3) Aug. 9, 1928, to Mrs. Emily (Ackerman) Lierman, daughter of Robert Ackerman, of Newark, N.J. Bates died in New York city, July 10, 1931.