In 1936, a prominent Houston businessman, Monroe Dunway Anderson, founded the M. D. Anderson Foundation to support his lifetime interests in health and education. Following his death in 1939, the trustees of the Foundation envisioned the creation of a medical center in Houston to consist of many different hospitals, academic institutions, and support organizations. The Trustees arranged a successful referendum election in Houston to purchase 134 acres to establish the Texas Medical Center. The Medical Center subsequently offered land at no cost for development by interested health related institutions.
In 1943, representatives of the Texas Medical Center convinced Baylor University in Waco to move Baylor University College of Medicine from Dallas to Houston. The Department of Ophthalmology was founded that same year with the establishment of the College of Medicine in Houston and Everett L. Goar, M.D., was appointed professor and first chair. Medical student lectures in ophthalmology were initially held in a warehouse building near downtown Houston and clinical teaching was conducted in the private office of Dr. Goar and an eye clinic at Jefferson Davis City-County Hospital. In 1949, the Veterans Administration assumed control of the naval hospital in Houston and the VA Hospital became Baylor's first affiliated hospital. The College moved to the Texas Medical Center in 1947 following the completion of the Roy and Lillie Cullen Building, which included space for teaching, research, and patient care for the Department of Ophthalmology. The Methodist Hospital moved to the Texas Medical Center in 1951 and became the College's major affiliated private adult hospital. The department trained two apprentice ophthalmologists during the period of 1943 to 1953 and, in 1954, established a three-year residency training program in ophthalmology. The program acquired additional teaching facilities following the opening in the Texas Medical Center of Texas Children's Hospital in 1954 and the Ben Taub General Hospital of the Harris County Hospital District in 1963.
Dr. Goar retired as chair in 1958 and Louis J. Girard, M.D., was appointed professor and chair. The department moved into new teaching, research, patient care, and administrative facilities in the Jewish Institute for Medical Research on Baylor's East Campus in 1963. In 1969, Baylor College of Medicine separated from Baylor University in Waco and became a private, independent medical school. Dr. Girard resigned as chair in 1970 and David Paton, M.D., was appointed professor and chair in 1971.
In 1969, Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital agreed to build a unique health care facility devoted to neurosensory diseases, the Neurosensory Center of Houston. In 1971, the Cullen Foundation, established by Hugh Roy and Lillie Cullen, gave a major gift on behalf of the Ophthalmological Institute of the Neurosensory Center. The fundraising campaign for the center was initiated in 1972. Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc., contributed a major gift and helped direct the planning and fundraising for ophthalmology. The Neurosensory Center and the Cullen Eye Institute were formally dedicated Sept. 25, 1977, and the scientific dedication of the Cullen Eye Institute was held Feb. 22-25, 1978. In 1981, Dan B. Jones, M.D., was appointed chair following the resignation of Dr. Paton.
Through a major gift from Mr. Albert B. Alkek, a Houston philanthropist and member of Baylor's Board of Trustees, the department opened the Alkek Eye Center in the Smith Tower of The Methodist Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in 1989. The center is the principal outpatient facility for the full-time clinical faculty and is connected by air bridge to the Cullen Eye Institute and the Neurosensory Center. In 1991, the department acquired new clinical facilities in pediatric ophthalmology with the opening of the Eye Clinic of the Feigin Center of Texas Children's Hospital. The completion of two new affiliated public hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, the Ben Taub General Hospital in January, 1990, and Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 1991, further expanded the department's facilities and programs for teaching, patient care, and clinical research.