Paul Owen grew up in Jacksonville, Florida in the mid-20th century. He attended Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he earned his Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and then his Doctorate in Optometry (O.D.). In 1966, Dr. Owen became the first optometrist in the Public Health Service commissioned Officer Corps. Prior to this, any necessary optometry care was provided by contracting physicians.
Dr. Owen was stationed at the Public Health Service’s Indian Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona as part of the Division of Indian Health’s efforts to combat Trachoma – a contagious eye disease which disproportionately affected Native American children. Opportunities for optometrists in the Indian Health Service grew quickly, and within 30 years there were 86 Commissioned Officers practicing optometry in the Indian Health Service.
Aside from a few photocopied news clippings that accompanied these images and a couple of cursory mentions in reports and histories of the Public Health Service, I have been unsuccessful in discovering any significant details of Dr. Owen’s life and experiences. As a minority physician treating minority patients during a truly tumultuous time in American history for both groups, perhaps it is not surprising that there appears to be very little information available on Dr. Owen.
That does not make the dearth any less disappointing, however. His role was pioneering and his story undoubtedly fascinating. So, if anyone out there has or discovers any information about Dr. Owen, please feel free to share!
Sources consulted for this blog include “Indian Health Service: A Comprehensive Health Care Program for American Indians and Alaskan Natives” (1985), “The Silent War: History and Impact of the United States Public Health Service” (2010), and the “Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Regional and Field Letter” (1966).
Newspaper clippings associated with the photos include articles from the “Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Regional and Field Letter” (1966), the “Papago Indian News” (1966), “Washington Report on the Medical Sciences” (1966), the “Fort Apache Scout” (1966), “The AMA News” (1966), and the “U.S. Medicine” (1967). These clippings were not published due to copyright concerns but are available for viewing in the Still Picture Research Room, College Park, MD.