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KDA TODAY January/February 2000
A Potpourri of Kentucky History
By Dr. Joe W. Jones, Jr.
This effort at some KDA history is real potpourri and comes from our far-western component, Purchase. Dr. Woodfin Hutson, a KDA past president who practiced in Murray for many years, is our source. Retired and living in Arizona, Hut remains a very interested member of the KDA. He was an excellent dentist with a deep love of our profession and keeps up with KDA matters by religiously reading our publications and communications.
There is surely somewhat of an historian, such as Dr. Hutson, in each of our KDA components and there certainly is the history. This history will eventually fade and die unless someone volunteers to record it. I would like to hear from any of our members and print your interesting stories.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a part of President Franklin Roosevelt's recovery program for the Great Depression of the 1930s. Those of us who remember it usually think of the thousands of structures that were constructed, but there were many lesser projects that really had no good reason for being, other than to put people to work. One such project was the printing, in 1940, of a booklet, "Medicine and Its Development in Kentucky". This was sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Health.
While the booklet is about medicine, it contains some interesting paragraphs on dentistry...
Dentistry is proud of its ancestry. Mummies have been found with gold fillings, and the Greek laws of the Twelve Tables permitted the interment of the dead without recovery of the gold that might be buried with them. Such honorable antiquity in no way barred the use of advertising, as modern as it might be, parading by permission, the use of names of prominent men in politics, the church, the law, but rarely, and as today it would, the stage. Dr. Smithers, "late of Washington, D. C.," determined to become a citizen, notifies the good people of Frankfort, Lexington, Versailles, Georgetown, and Louisville that his services are to be at their disposal at a price and refers them, among others, to Henry Clay, Professor Chambers, the Rev. Silas Noel, "and the greater part of the delegation to Congress for the last twenty years." That was in 1830.
About the same time, James Challenu, second house from the corner of Main and Spring streets, nearly opposite Masonic Hall, "offers to attend ladies at their residences and to perform all operations in dentistry agreeably, with approved scientific methods." The advertisements were elaborately detailed. Prices were "within the reach of all." The rise in dignity, since these days of "ballyhoo" has been noteworthy; the dentist had been a figure at county fairs - he is today a specialist held in high respect.
It is the opinion of Shryock that dentistry had suffered for a long time under "the age-old prejudice attached to actual work with the hand," a position he seems to hold alone. Isn't it more probable that it suffered from the ill-repute into which it had fallen from, the practices of charlatans who exploited the gullibility of the "yokel" and pulled teeth as an exhibitionary stunt?
The first dental society was organized in Louisville in March 1891 as the "Reciprocity Club or Dental Protective Association"; by May 1896 it had expanded into the "Falls Cities Dental Society" and in 1900 new life and a new name came with the "Jefferson County Dental Society." There are dental societies in a number of counties and groups of counties, such as the Bluegrass and the Green River.
(The preceding paragraph demonstrates some poor research of 1940, as the official history shows the Kentucky State Dental Association was formed, in Lexington, in 1860.)
As far back as 1849, a School of Dental Surgery was duly incorporated, at Transylvania, with every sort of legal proviso and high ambition; it does not seem, either to have progressed or prospered beyond that step, nor was it ever revived. The historic significance of this project lies in the early date and beyond that, if a term of the craft may be borrowed, one might say that extraction was painless. In Louisville no step was taken until a demand existed and candidates were ready for registration. There were discouragements, as might have been expected, but almost from the first the venture was successful, and the commencement of 1887, closing a one-year course, was the first of a succession uninterrupted up to the present day.
The sponsor of the school was then known as Central University of Kentucky and a building was equipped opposite the old City Hospital, while the faculty enjoyed a local connection with the Hospital College of Medicine. This arrangement obtained until 1890 and so encouraging were the results that in 1894 more spacious premises were secured on Chestnut Street, and finally, in 1900, the fine building at Brook and Broadway was erected. This, in 1913, was taken over by the University of Louisville and the school then became the University's College of Dentistry, with H. B. Tileston as Dean, a position he held until his death, in 1925. He replaced W. E. Grant,. long active as Dean of Louisville's first Dental School. The one-year course has long since grown into a course of three years and relations have been continuously maintained with the American Dental Association.
Dr. Hutson provided the above booklet and then tells about a Dr. Otto Kidell, from Germany, who practiced in Murray in the early 1900s. He claimed to have a secret cement filling material which would serve as well as amalgam. Some of the local dentists who saw these fillings stated they did seem to last for several years. Dr Kidell was a bachelor and lived in his upstairs office on the court square. He was an accomplished violinist and played classical music, daily. One summer evening he was playing, with the windows open, and some rowdy boys threw a rock into his window. He took a pistol and fired at them, hitting one boy in the foot. Hut knows this is true because the boy became a lawyer and practiced in the same building as Hut.
Dr. Kidell later became a drug addict and eventually committed suicide. He was buried in Texas.
Dr. Hutson reminds us of some of our active members of the Purchase, of times gone by. Drs. Hugh McElrath and Hutson, of Murray; E. H. Gardner, of Bardwell; Julian Dismukes and Julian, Jr. (Macon), of Paducah all served as President of the KDA. Dr. McElrath and Dr. John Stokes, of Mayfield, both served terms on the old Board of Dental Examiners. Under the present format of the Board of Dentistry, Drs. Howard Titsworth and Michael Ridley, both of Murray, have served terms. Hut and Mike are the only survivors and both are hale and hearty.
Again, I encourage history from our component districts.