Rand, Gertrude (1886–1970)

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Rand, Gertrude (1886–1970)

American researcher in the field of physiological optics. Name variations: Marie Gertrude Rand; Gertrude Ferree. Born Marie Gertrude Rand in Brooklyn, New York, on October 29, 1886; died in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York, on June 30, 1970; daughter of Lyman Fiske Rand (president of a manufacturing company) and Mary Catherine (Moench) Rand; graduated from Girls High School in Brooklyn in 1904; Cornell University, A.B., 1908; Bryn Mawr, A.M., Ph.D., 1911; post-doctoral fellow (1911–12) and Sarah Berliner Research Fellow (1912–13), Bryn Mawr; married Clarence Ferree, on December 28, 1918 (died 1942).

Became the first woman fellow of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (1952); was the first woman to win the Edgar D. Tillyer Medal of the Optical Society of America (1959); received gold medal from Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (1963).

Gertrude Rand was born into a large family on October 29, 1886, in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Girls High School in Brooklyn in 1904 and continued her extensive education at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she received an A.B. degree in experimental psychology in 1908. Going on to Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, she earned both an A.M. and a Ph.D. in psychology in 1911. She remained at Bryn Mawr, first as a postdoctoral fellow, then as a Sarah Berliner Research Fellow, and from 1913 to 1927 as an associate in experimental psychology. In 1918, she married Clarence Ferree, a professor at the college who had overseen her doctoral dissertation. They collaborated professionally, researching the effects of illumination on color perception. Other research they conducted eventually led to the development of the Ferree-Rand perimeter, a tool for diagnosing vision problems which maps the perceptual abilities of the retina.

In 1928, Rand and Ferree moved to the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Rand taught there as an associate professor of research ophthalmology and then of physiological optics, and in 1935 became associate director of the Research Laboratory of Physiological Optics in Baltimore. She and her husband also consulted with industries and government agencies. Together they developed glare-control lighting for public places, most prominently the Holland Tunnel in New York City and the Johns Hopkins University Hospital. They also developed visual health and acuity standards for airplane pilots and ship lookouts during World War II, and patented a number of lighting instruments and devices.

After Ferree died in 1942, Rand moved to New York City, where she worked as a research associate at the Knapp Foundation of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. There she concentrated her efforts on the detection and measurement of color blindness. In 1952, she was elected a fellow of the Illuminating Engineering Society, making her the first woman so honored. During the 1950s, she was part of a team that developed special plates, called Hardy-Rand-Rittler plates, for use in testing color vision. Rather than simply verifying defective color vision, these plates allowed ophthalmologists and psychologists to pinpoint the type and severity of defect in an individual's color vision.

Rand retired in 1957. Two years later, she became the first woman to win the Edgar D. Tillyer Medal from the Optical Society of America for outstanding research in vision, and in 1963 she was awarded a gold medal from the Illuminating Engineering Society. She died in Stony Brook, Long Island, on June 30, 1970, at the age of 83.


Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont