Wills Eye Hospital

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Wills Eye Hospital
WEH LOGO-willseyeorg 2.png
Location840 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Hospital typeSpecialist
Affiliated universityThomas Jefferson University
ListsHospitals in Pennsylvania

Wills Eye Hospital is a non-profit eye clinic and hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was established in 1832 and is the oldest continually operating eye-care facility in the United States. It is affiliated with the medical school of Thomas Jefferson University.

Since 1990, Wills Eye Hospital has consistently been ranked one of the top three ophthalmology hospitals in the United States by U.S. News and World Report and its ophthalmology residency program is considered one of the most competitive residency programs in the world.[1]


James Wills Jr., a Quaker merchant, was instrumental in the founding of Wills Eye through his bequest of $116,000 in 1832 to the City of Philadelphia. Wills stipulated that the funds were to be used specifically for the indigent, blind, and lame. Over the years it evolved into solely an eye hospital. The first Wills Eye Hospital opened in 1834 near Logan Circle at 18th & Race Streets.

Early surgeons at Wills Eye included Isaac Parrish, M.D. and Isaac Hays, MD,[2] George Fox, M.D., and Squier Littell, M.D., who in 1837 wrote "A Manual of Diseases of the Eye." [3] In 1854, Littell also co-edited "A Treatise on Operative Ophthalmic Surgery" with Henry Haynes Walton.[4]

Historic building[edit]

Wills Eye Hospital
Phila WillsEyeHospital00.jpg
Wills Hospital (building located at 1601 Spring Garden Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1932-1980)
Wills Eye Hospital is located in Philadelphia
Wills Eye Hospital
Wills Eye Hospital is located in Pennsylvania
Wills Eye Hospital
Wills Eye Hospital is located in the United States
Wills Eye Hospital
Coordinates39°57′48″N 75°9′56″W / 39.96333°N 75.16556°W / 39.96333; -75.16556Coordinates: 39°57′48″N 75°9′56″W / 39.96333°N 75.16556°W / 39.96333; -75.16556
Area0.8 acres (0.32 ha)
ArchitectJohn T. Windrim
Architectural styleOther, Federal Tuscan
NRHP reference #84003582[5]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJuly 12, 1984
Designated PHMCOctober 9, 2009[6]

The Centennial Building of Wills Eye Hospital was designed by architect John T. Windrim and built in 1931-1932. It is a six-story, brick building measuring 154 by 157 feet (47 by 48 m). The front facade features a portico with eight Tuscan order columns.[7] The building is now residential apartments.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.[5]

Board of Directors of City Trusts[edit]

In his bequest, James Wills stipulated that Wills be administered by the Mayor of Philadelphia or his representatives. In 1869, the Pennsylvania legislature established the Board of Directors of City Trusts for the purpose of administering such funds left in trust to the City.

The Board consists of twelve citizens of Philadelphia, appointed by and accountable to the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. Members of the Board, who are named for life or during good behavior, serve without compensation. The Mayor and the President of the Council of the City of Philadelphia are ex-officio members. The Board is required to report annually to the above Court, the legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Council of the City of Philadelphia on the condition and status of the trusts, which it administers.

The Board's bylaws provide that matters relating to Wills Eye shall be supervised by a standing committee of the Board, the Hospital and Research Committee. In addition, another of the Board's standing committees, the Joint Conference Committee, is responsible for the supervision of all medical affairs related to the administration of Wills. The CEO of Wills consults frequently with the Chair of the Hospital Committee on all matters of Wills policy, organizational changes, and major operational problems.


Wills is managed by a tripartite organization consisting of the Board of Directors of City Trusts, the Wills Eye administration, and the medical staff. Overall policy — including matters pertaining to selection, direction, and accountability of management — is determined by the Board of Directors of City Trusts. Establishment of institutional objectives and decisions relating to the operations are the responsibility of the Wills administration. Strategies and administrative concerns relating to professional matters, the residency program, and research are under the purview of the Ophthalmologist-in-Chief and Executive Council of the medical staff.


Wills Eye built its outstanding reputation as a pioneer in ophthalmic education by establishing the first ophthalmology residency program in the country in 1839. Admission to the residency program is extremely competitive; eight physicians are selected every year from over 500 applicants. Wills currently has 24 residents enrolled in the three-year program. Numerous alumni of the residency program have gone on to become prominent researchers and department chairs at some of the world's finest institutions.

In addition to the residency program, Wills offers fellowships in each ophthalmic subspecialty. At the present time there are 26 ophthalmologists enrolled in clinical and research fellowship programs.

Medical achievements[edit]

Wills Eye has pioneered many techniques in the field of ophthalmology, including:

  • Artificial intraocular lens implant (1952), Warren Reese, MD and Turgut Hamdi, MD
  • Invention of a vitrectomy machine (1972), Jay Federman, MD
  • Artificial retinal implant (2009), Julia Haller, MD, Allen Ho, MD and Carl Regillo, MD [8][9]


The Wills Vision Research Center at Jefferson was established in June 2011 in order to forge a collaboration between clinicians and researchers in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of eye disease. More than 15 scientific disciplines participate, including ophthalmology, oncology, pathology, neurology and endocrinology. The primary focus is on translational research and studies that will have a major impact on improving vision health.

Notable people[edit]

Senior officials[edit]

  • Joseph Bilson, Executive Director, Wills Eye (2007–present)
  • Julia A. Haller, MD, Ophthalmologist-in-Chief, Wills Eye (2007–present)

Accreditation and approvals[edit]

  • Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
  • Pennsylvania Department of Health
  • Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education
  • Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education of the American Medical Association
  • College of American Pathologists


  • American Association of Eye and Ear Hospitals
  • Council of Specialty Surgical Facilities and Institutes


  1. ^ "Rankings". health.usnews.com. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  2. ^ Jackson, Samuel. Memoir of Isaac Parrish, M.D.[1], Google Books.
  3. ^ "Bernard Becker Collection in Ophthalmology - Records #201-250". beckerexhibits.wustl.edu.
  4. ^ Walton, Henry Haynes and Littell, Squier, "A Treatise on Operative Ophthalmic Surgery",[2] Google Books.
  5. ^ a b National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  6. ^ "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  7. ^ "National Historic Landmarks & National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania" (Searchable database). CRGIS: Cultural Resources Geographic Information System. Note: This includes George E. Thomas (February 1984). "National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: Wills Hospital" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-16.
  8. ^ Gorman, Ali, Artificial retina gives hope for sight. ABCgolocal.com.
  9. ^ Avril, Tom Implant gives new hope to the blind. philly.com, Sept. 8, 2009.
  10. ^ Through My Eyes: The Charlie Kelman Story, January 2010, WLIW21, New York
  11. ^ [3][dead link]


External links[edit]