Light on the hill: A history of Tufts College, 1852-1952

Miller, Russell


The Tufts Dental School between 1937 and 1952 faced many of the same problems that beset the medical school, although their magnitude was not always as great or as apparent. The plan outlined in 1937 to move the medical school eventually to the New England Medical Center brought into sharp focus the


long-standing problem of the relationship between the medical and dental schools. The discernible trend of dentistry to become a medical specialty made imperative a close affiliation of the two professions. For many years the dental students had received basic instruction in the Department of Anatomy, with financial adjustments made on a per capita basis. Dean Stearns of the medical school felt that the two schools should occupy separate buildings, although it was obviously economical for the medical school to operate the departments in the fundamental sciences needed by both sets of students. Payment by the dental school of a service charge seemed to be an equitable plan. The Dental Alumni Association, not so confident that this could be worked out, asked the Trustees what would become of the dental school if the medical school did move to another location. The Association was much concerned that the provision of laboratories and teachers for the basic medico-dental sciences was beyond the capability of the dental school to furnish. The school was greatly relieved when the decision was made to house it, together with the medical school, in the vicinity of the New England Medical Center.

Dr. Marjerison, dean of the dental school in the 1930's, was wont to place the problems of the school in a large context and reiterated his plea that the school be developed as less of a "vocational school" and more of a professional educational activity associated with a liberal arts college and, specifically, with the medical school. There was no question in his mind that dentistry was no more than "a problem in human biology." He was of the opinion that for the dental school to meet the university ideal it had to be subsidized by the parent institution as well as by tuition fees and was obligated to encourage career teaching and research. These were, in Marjerison's opinion, as much the responsibilities of the officials of the College as of the dental school. Allowing or forcing the school to operate as a commercial venture should be made a thing of the past.

The dental school dean used his annual report for 1938-39 as a vehicle for discussing some of the broader problems involved in dental education. He paid particular attention to the inadequacies of the two-year dental preparatory program. He considered the so-called "two-four plan" entirely too inflexible and too conducive to the lowering of academic standards. The pre-clinical sciences in the


first two years of dental school were acceptable for credit in neither the medical school nor graduate departments of the College. There was no sound reason, in his estimation, for considering the pre-clinical scientific training of the prospective dentist less demanding or somehow lower on the scale of academic values than similar training for medicine. Commitment to one narrow curriculum was no way to attract superior students. Eventually, entrance requirements for dentistry should, he felt, be the same as for medical school, namely, a Bachelor's degree. Some progress had been made in requiring a four-year degree, but the goal was not yet achieved. In 1939-40 every first-year student admitted to the Tufts Medical School was a college graduate; slightly less than 40 per cent of entering dental students in the same year were degree holders. Another major weakness in dental education, as Marjerison saw it, was the lack of well-administered teaching internships. It was unfair to expect the dental school faculty to turn out finished products. The addition of an intern year seemed to be the best solution. Although it was true that almost one-third of the graduating class in 1939 received hospital appointments, these internships were conducted independently of the dental school and hence were not part of an articulated curriculum. The dean's reiterated plea for support of full-time teachers and research workers lost none of its pertinence in repetition.

Only a year after he had offered his thoughts on dental education, and twenty-three years after his first appointment at Tufts, Dr. Marjerison resigned to accept the deanship of the dental school at the University of Illinois. At least some of his hopes for an even closer affinity of dentistry and medicine were realized in his successor, for Dr. Basil B. Bibby held a joint appointment in the two schools as Professor of Bacteriology.

Like other divisions of the College, the dental school bent all of its efforts to the special tasks that confronted liberal arts and professional education during the Second World War. Surmounting the complications associated with shortages of professional, technical, and clerical personnel and scarcities of material was little short of heroic. Curricular acceleration was immediately introduced, and faculty and students alike were scattered literally to the four corners of the world as others took their places in the crowded Huntington Avenue headquarters and sought to give and receive


essential dental training. It came as no surprise that an informal report made after a visitation from representatives of the Council on Dental Education in 1943 called attention to the inadequate staffing. The school managed, in spite of the difficulties it had faced during the war period, to become one of the twenty-three dental schools given full approval by that same Council in 1945.

Some of the accomplishments of the dental school by 1945 undoubtedly contributed to the favorable report of the inspection, although even more progress was made after the national emergency had passed. During the academic year 1942-43, clinical opportunities for students were extended by an informal arrangement with the Oral Surgery Clinic of the Boston City Hospital, and in the spring of 1945 a formal affiliation with that institution gave Tufts students exclusive privileges in the Department of Oral Surgery. In January 1944 a new cooperative arrangement with the Boston Dispensary went into effect by which part-time instructors were employed jointly with the dental school. The Boston Dispensary Clinic was made an integral part of the dental school in the fall of 1949.[33]  In the midst of the Second World War (1944) the dental school arranged with the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for the use of senior students who in effect served as interns. It had been during the First World War that Tufts' relationship with Forsyth had also been close.

Despite the increased work load of a badly depleted staff during the war, the dental school undertook new and important projects; after 1945, the expansion of research and postgraduate activities was even more impressive. One of the most significant studies undertaken in 1943 was an investigation of the value of fluorides in dentifrices, aided by a grant from the Procter and Gamble Company. A grant of $90,000 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation gave much aid to postgraduate research. The first candidate for a Master of Science degree in the medical sciences began work in the dental school in January 1943, and in 1950 the Master of Dental Science degree was created. In the meantime (1945), postgraduate courses were being offered in cooperation with the Massachusetts Dental Society.

Dean Bibby did not remain to see all of his plans for a greatly


expanded graduate program come to fruition. He resigned, effective September 1946, to return to Rochester, New York, where he accepted an appointment as director of the Eastman Dental Dispensary. His successor for a brief period was Dr. Joseph F. Volker, Professor of Clinical Dentistry in the Tufts School, who resigned in 1949 in order to head the newly created University of Alabama School of Dentistry. It was under the leadership of yet another dean, Dr. Cyril D. Marshall-Day, who assumed his post in midyear of 1948-49, that the dental school made the long-awaited move to the New England Medical Center.

Even though the leadership of the school had changed three times in less than ten years, and it lost by death in 1948 Dr. John T. O'Rourke, who had built up the Division of Graduate and Post-Graduate Instruction to a position of national prominence, the Tufts Dental School maintained a record of consistent progress. A continuous effort was made, even during the war years, to increase the financial support so critically needed to strengthen teaching staff and to provide student assistance. A limited amount of scholarship aid was finally provided in the early 1940's. An increase in tuition in 1945 (from $400 to $500) and again in 1948 (to $600) helped in some measure.[34]  Even more important as a source of income was the Development Fund Drive of $300,000, successfully completed in the spring of 1946. Meanwhile, faculty leadership in professional activities was signalized by the election in 1948 and 1949 of Dr. Philip Adams, Professor of Orthodontics, to the presidency of the American Dental Association; Dr. Murray Gavel, Professor of Clinical Dentistry, to the presidency of the Massachusetts Dental Society, succeeding Dr. Herbert Margolis, Professor of Graduate Orthodontics; and Dr. Irving Glickman, Professor of Oral Pathology and Periodontology, to the presidency of the Greater Boston Dental Society.

The move of the dental school to the New England Medical Center in 1949-50 was doubly significant, for it coincided with the completion of the first half-century of affiliation with Tufts. The new location also made the close relations with the medical school, so long sought by so many, more of a possibility than ever before. Dentistry was being more and more recognized professionally as a


significant phase of preventive medicine.[35]  As the academic year 1951-52 drew to a close, the dental school completed its eighty-fourth year as a training institution. Its record had been one of growth - in the quality as well as the quantity of its graduates, in its research activities, in the caliber of its faculty, and in its national reputation. It ranked among the top schools of the forty-two similar institutions in the United States. On the local level, it furnished the bulk of the dentists for New England. Its community services to dental health education and its graduate and refresher courses for practicing dentists were among its many contributions. The research division alone had a staff of over forty and an annual budget approaching $200,000 in 1952.

The road of the dental school had not been as rocky as that of the medical school, but it still had the challenges of the future to face. The increased requirements for the armed services and the competition of government agencies and of private practice posed serious problems in the field of faculty recruitment and retention. Like the medical school, the dental school calculated the probable effects of the creation of a state-supported school as proposed in the state legislature in 1952. What was the role of the non-tax-supported institution? There were, as well, more academically oriented questions to be answered and deficiencies to be remedied. The failure to correlate pre-clinical education adequately in the basic sciences with clinical experience was one example. Another fundamental problem of dogged persistence was the inability of students to communicate their ideas in effective and correct fashion. One distressed dental school faculty member deplored "the relative degree of illiteracy in the student body." There was concern expressed from time to time that competition for entrance into dental schools had become so intense that students were neglecting the liberal arts tradition in their haste to excel as specialists in science at the undergraduate level. There still remained the larger question, facing many another dental school besides Tufts, and schools in other professional areas as well, of how to produce educated men and women as well as narrow technicians.


[33] The clinic was used for the Department of Oral Pediatrics during the daytime, and Tufts personnel continued to operate the evening clinic.

[34] Dental school tuition became $800 in 1949-50 and was raised to $850 for 1952-53.

[35] This close relationship was recognized in the terminology used when the College officially became Tufts University in 1955. The dental school became the Tufts School of Dental Medicine.

  • Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts College, was published to coincide with the centennial of the institution in 1952. A second volume was published in 1986. This edition was created from the 1966 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume I.
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