In the spring of 1945 at the Residents meeting of the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins University Drs. Theodore E. Sanders, John McLean and Benjamin Rones organized an Ophthalmic Pathology Club. These three visionaries drew up a list of about twenty potential members and invited them to an organizational meeting in October at the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology (later split into the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Otolaryngology). Following the enthusiastic response at the organizational meeting the first Ophthalmic Pathology Exchange Club was born.
In 1947 a group of individuals interested in Ophthalmic Pathology started meeting annually in Washington, DC to study histologic sections from ocular specimens that had been obtained in different laboratories throughout the country. Most participants were board certified Ophthlmologists; one was a certified Pathologist (Edith M. Parkhill of the Mayo Clinic). Each participant provided the others with a recut of the pathologic tissue as well as a brief protocol summarizing the relevant clinical information. Initially the organization was designated the Ophthalmic Pathology Club.
In addition to the limited membership other invited guests participated. At first when members could not come they were permitted to send an alternate of their own choosing as a guest. Later this policy was changed and the organizer of the meeting invited guests to fill the vacant slots, usually on the recommendation of members. Because of a desire to keep the meetings informal without a written constitution, bylaws, formal officers, transactions or other publications the organization was called the Ophthalmic Pathology Club rather than a Society. It later became the Verhoeff Society and then the Verhoeff-Zimmerman Society. Initially the Society met two days before the Wilmer Residents meeting.
From 1947-1953 the meetings took place at the Army Medical Museum in Washington. In 1954 the Society met in Philadelphia at the Wills Eye Hospital. After its opening in 1955 the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) became the regular site for the meetings. Initially microscopes were used by all participants at these meetings, but it later became apparent that by sending out the case material to participants prior to the meeting the case presentations could be satisfactorily conducted without microscopes. Hence from 1985 when the Society began to meet at different locations microscopes were not provided.
In 1964 many members, as well as the Internal Revenue Service, believed that the Ophthalmic Pathology Club merited a more elegant name. John McLean proposed that the organization be thereafter designated the Verhoeff Society in honor of its "most senior and most respected member"- the pioneer of American Ophthalmic Pathology. Because there were no bylaws this change in name took place simply by an agreement of the members rather than by a constitutional change. After the adoption of its new name John McLean and Ted E. Sanders thought that a coat of arms would be appropriate for the Society and after preliminary sketches during the next winter John McLean and Joseph A.C. Wadsworth commissioned an artist to reproduce the design of this symbolic coat of arms. The coat of arms, which was at one time displayed at all formal meetings of the Society contains the motto "Ex Errato Lux" (from our mistakes comes knowledge).
At first there were no dues and the cost of each meeting was divided pro rata amongst the members. In 1970 it became evident that permanent funds were needed. Hence regular dues were voted and Dr. William Frayer was elected treasurer and retained the post until 1984, when Dr. Gordon K. Klintworth became Treasurer. In 1991 Milton Bonuik took over this duty.
In 1983 the Society expanded its membership to 35 and members were asked to send out their case material in advance of the meeting so that participants could examine the material at their own institutions prior to the meeting. Gradually the membership increased to 39. At the 1998 meeting the members voted unanimously to change the name of the Society to the Verhoeff-Zimmerman Society to honor Lorenz E. Zimmerman who had by far contributed more to the Society than anyone else.
Several members died during active membership: Jonas Friedenwald, John McLean, Paul Henkind, Michael J. Hogan.
Copies of all cases presented at the Verhoeff-Zimmerman Society are maintained in the Ophthalmic Pathology Registry at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.