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Dr. Ella Gertrude Smith Ayer Stanton Jones (1863-1931), better known as Gertrude Stanton, was the first woman licensed to practice optometry in the United States. A native of Iowa, Stanton began her career as a teacher, but eventually moved to Minnesota where she received training and began to work as an itinerant refracting optician or optometrist, building her professional reputation through clever marketing. In 1901, shortly after the passage of the first optometry licensure law in Minnesota, Stanton applied for and received a license by exemption. Stanton went on to become an in-store optometrist at Dayton’s Department Store and eventually set up her own storefront where she employed her daughter and ran an optical business run entirely by women. During her career, she participated in optometry and professional associations and public service projects and was active in her community. Thrice married with three children, Stanton’s abiding popularity with her patients and the public as well as her financial success despite leading an unconventional life for a woman at the turn of the twentieth century is a testament to her fierce independence, indomitable spirit and impressive business acumen. This article, constructed from meticulous research in archival records, paints a detailed portrait of Stanton’s life and career as an optometric pioneer.
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