Meharry's School of Dentistry
Celebrates 125th Anniversary

Meharry's School of Dentistry (SOD), the first dental school for African Americans in the South, is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

In order to mark this milestone, Meharry's SOD will host special events beginning October 12.

SOD 125 logoOne of the goals of the celebration is to ensure the school's history will be appropriately recognized as the foundation for today's progress and tomorrow's future growth.

"This celebration marks a magnificent accomplishment by the school as it relates to education and training of oral health care providers as well as the provision of service to our community," said Dr. Janet H. Southerland, dean of Meharry's School of Dentistry. "We are extremely excited about the celebration and it is an honor of a lifetime."

The dental school's history is a rich one.

Meharry Medical College was founded in 1876. A short time later, the idea to establish a dental school, within Meharry's medical school, originated in the minds of some of the School of Medicine's alumni. In 1884, the trustees of Central Tennessee College (Meharry Medical College's original namesake) considered the feasibility of adding dental education as part of the medical curriculum. In 1886, the dental curriculum was organized within the medical school "to provide the Colored people of the south with an opportunity for thoroughly preparing themselves for the practice of dentistry," according to the book Dental Education at Meharry Medical College, written by Dr. Clifton Dummett.

"Dental needs in the South were enormous," said Dr. Henry A. Moses, Ph.D., executive director of the National Alumni Association of Meharry and professor emeritus.

Moses said the School of Dentistry was established because there was basically no institution for African Americans to get a dental education in the South. He said the Southern area of the United States was in dire need of oral health care.

"There was already a School of Medicine at Meharry, with faculty in place, so it was logical that the School of Dentistry would be located on the campus of Meharry," Moses said.

George Whipple Hubbard, M.D., the first president of Meharry Medical College and dean of the Medical School, Central Tennessee College, announced that arrangements for opening the dental school had been completed in 1886. He estimated it would cost $500 for "a suitable outfit for our dental rooms."

Dr. Hubbard secured the following contributions in currency and goods to get the dental school started: $20 in cash and $15 in instruments from White Dental Manufacturing Co. (Philadelphia); $10 cash and $15 worth of instruments from G. Sibley (Philadelphia); $10 cash and $25 in instruments from H.D. Justi (Philadelphia); $25 in instruments from New York Dental Manufacturing Company; $10 cash from Chas. Abbey (New York); $5 cash from Dr. Pierce (Philadelphia) and $20 cash from J. H. Ashmead & Son (Hartford, Conn.). Even though the total amount received did not reach Hubbard's original estimate, he believed it was enough to start the dental school while continuing to seek further contributions.

Dr. Hubbard enlisted William Henry Morgan, M.D., D.D.S., founding dean of the Department of Dentistry at Vanderbilt University, to help get Meharry's dental program started. Hubbard gave Morgan the responsibility of implementing the new dental program.

Meharry's Dental School was launched as the first institution in the South for training African-American dentists in 1886.

According to the school's history, individuals who applied for admission to the new dental school had to be at least 19-years-old and of good moral character. They were mandated to "pass a satisfactory examination in reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, geography and grammar or bring satisfactory evidence of having completed a course in some recognized Normal School, Academy or College."

The complete dental course was two years with the first year devoted to the basic sciences and practical laboratory work. In the second year, students participated in extensive exercises in the dental laboratory.

Nine students enrolled in the dental school's first session which began Oct. 4, 1886. Three of the students were physicians and, as graduates of the medical school, were exempt from the first year of dental requirements. These three physicians were recipients of the school's first dental doctorates conferred in 1887. They were: Henry T. Noel of Tennessee, Robert Fulton Boyd of Tennessee and John Wesley Anderson of Texas.

The first commencement of Central Tennessee College's dental school was also the eleventh commencement of the medical school. Joint exercises were held Monday, Feb. 21, 1887 at Nashville's Masonic Theater. The address to dental graduates was given by Dean Morgan of Vanderbilt's dental school.

Currently, the SOD admits approximately 60 students each year to the four-year curriculum leading to a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. There are two graduate programs, Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and General Practice Residency.

The celebration for the 125th Anniversary begins Friday, October 12, with continuing education courses from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. That evening, a reception and tour of the School of Dentistry will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. On Saturday evening the 125th Anniversary Reception and Gala will be held from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m.

"As a native Nashvillian I have a unique appreciation of the importance and significance of Meharry School of Dentistry's 125 years of existence and the vital role Meharry has played in the health care of the Middle Tennessee community and the Nation, providing unwavering quality health care to the historically underserved. Meharry is truly a national treasure," said Dr. Walter R. Owens, associate dean of development and external affairs for the dental school.