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Dayton Dental Society History

This article first appeared in the March 1964 issue of the Ohio Dental Journal


Dayton Dental Society History


                Dayton, and the Miami Valley area which it dominates, has always managed to be in a pivotal position which enabled the community to earn and to maintain a key position in Ohio’s history.

                The field of dentistry has been no exception.  The area which saw the settlement of the Indian Territory wars (the Treaty of Greenville), nurtured the men who were to give the world practical aviation, the automobile self-starter, became the center of the cash register and electric refrigeration industrial world also provided men who made an indelible mark on the dental profession.

                In 1825, Dr. John Harris, native of Pompey, New York, who began the practice of medicine about 1819 near Cincinnati, announced he was “making a variety of preparations and arrangements for the instruction of a private class of medical students, preparatory to their entering a Medical College.”

                While that first dental school at Bainbridge was some 75 miles away, Dayton had three dentists engaged in active practice before the first product of the Bainbridge school arrived in the community.

                It was in 1831 that Dr. A. Knisley (not to be confused with Dr. O. B. Kneisly who became prominent a century later) became the first dentist in the Dayton community that then had but a few thousand persons.  Most of them had come up from Cincinnati to settle in an area where four streams converged into the Great Miami River which was navigable to the Ohio River.  Some had arrived from the East.

                Prior to 1831, the earliest dental operations performed in this river settlement were credited to barbers, whose talents included only “extraction of teeth” and relief of pain in connection with teeth.

                In those days, dentists, druggists and physicians usually had more than one vocation.  Dr. Knisley, who had come to Ohio in 1826 from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, was a very fine cabinet maker.  Descendents of the family still use his loveseats, chairs, highboys and tables.

                Dr. Knisley had his office on the main cross street, opposite the jail.  One of his early advertisements read, “Dr. A. Knisley tenders his service to the ladies and gentlemen of Dayton in the several branches of Dental Surgery.”

                In other advertisements he proposed to insert natural or artificial teeth with such permanency and so naturally as to escape detection, to cure all cases of scurvy of the teeth, to preserve those that are decaying, and to extract decayed teeth and remaining roots with care and safety.

                Among testimonials was one from a Dr. Edwin Smith who wrote, “I have examined Dr. Knisley’s assortment of porcelain teeth (which he has just received from Philadelphia) and must say they are superior to any of the kind I have seen.”

                Dr. G. A. Fridinger was the second practitioner to open an office n Dayton.  In his first advertisements in 1833 he told of his “incorruptible teeth as against the use of oxen, hippopotamus or human teeth, of pieces of carved bone or ivory; which, when transplanted, are subject to putrefaction.”

                In 1838 Dr. H. Williams was listed as a dentist in Dayton, with office and residence opposite the National House, Third Street, between Main and Jefferson Streets.

                On Sept. 27, 1841, he advertised he had just “returned from abroad and tender my services as a dental surgeon.”

                In 1842 the first product of Dr. Harris’ school at Bainbridge arrived in the Dayton area, first practicing in Miamisburg, and on May 10, 1842, this advertisement appeared in Dayton newspapers.  “J. Jones would respectfully acquaint the citizens of Dayton and vicinity that he has located permanently in the city and is prepared to perform all the various operations in the profession of Dentistry.

                “He will attend to all the disease of teeth and gums and to the regulation of teeth of children which is particularly necessary in second dentition to secure their beauty and uniformity, cure the exposed nerves of teeth and plug them without inconvenience; insert entire sets of teeth, on the most approved principle, in some cases without the use of springs.”

                Dr. John Jones located on the main cross street and offered “satisfactory references.”  He had been a pupil of Dr. John Harris and evidently came directly to Montgomery County from the Bainbridge school in 1842.  He later matriculated in the Ohio College of Dental Surgery at Cincinnati and was a member of the first graduating class in 1846.

                Dr. Jones, who died in 1850, was associated with Dr. B. A. Satterthwait and was preceptor to several dental students.  His dedication was evidenced when he introduced before the Mississippi Valley Association of Dental Surgeons, founded in 1844, a resolution which marked the beginning of the profession’s code of ethics.  It could well have been at the original sessions for the Mississippi Valley Association’s Constitution devoted much attention to elevating the character and standing of the profession and to making it worthy of the confidence of an enlightened public.

                This was typical of the contributions made through the years by Dayton dentists.  In elevating the ethics and in actual development of dental equipment and perfection of processes, there are frequent references to names well known to Dayton patients.

                The first Dayton directory in 1850 listed 13 dentists practicing in Dayton.  The United States census for this same year reported a total of 2923 dentists.

                In 1840, the national rate was one dentist for every 15,000 inhabitants.  Dayton, with three or four practicing dentists, had on for every 2000 citizens that year.  By 1850, the Union had one for every 8000 and Dayton was well above average with one for every 1000.  In fairness, however, it must be remembered that Dayton served surrounding counties.

                In this period, Dayton had many traveling dentists who would come to town briefly, or on a regular schedule, to treat patients.

                One who was to become an outstanding practitioner in Dayton from 1848 until his death in 1908, first divided his time between his original office at Lima and Dayton.  His daughter in later years said that Dr. B. A. Sattherthwait frequently walked the entire distance between the two offices.

                Dr. Sattherthwait developed an artistry in making teeth that apparently was well beyond his time.  He collected field spars (non-metallic minerals) near Dayton, ground and prepared his own porcelain powders, molded teeth and then baked, glazfired and stained them.

                The second directory of the city was published in 1870 and listed seven dentists: Drs. C. Bradkey, Edward Conway, John Jones, William Pease, B. A. Satterthwait, Andrew Sheets and George Switzer.


Beginning of the Dental Code of Ethics

                Dr. Jones and Dr. Satterthwait both were active workers in formulating and supporting a code of ethics for dentists.  They were at the second annual meeting in 1846 of the Mississippi Valley Association which passed this resolution:

                “Resolved, that any member of this society who shall extol his own peculiar merits over those of a fellow practitioner, or offer his services at lower rates than is common among the members of the profession among whom he operates, through the public prints, or uses any secret nostrums (unless pledged prior to the present time to secrecy) shall be liable to expulsion from this society.”

                This was the beginning of the profession’s code of ethics as it is known today.

                The greater Dayton area had among its practitioners the co-founder of one of the world, Dr. Chapin A. Harris.  He and James Taylor, who cooperated in starting the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1845, received primary instruction under Dr. John Harris, Chapin’s brother, in Bainbridge.

                Not all was on the credit side of the dental profession’s ledger in Dayton in those first few decades, although it might be construed as favorable that the bleak side is not nearly so well recorded.  Dentists did testify against colleagues whose procedures were judged detrimental to the profession.

                The reason for the decline of dentists in Dayton from 1850 to 1860 is not recorded, although it came in a period when the city’s population was increasing from 10,977 to 16,562.

                One of those listed in the 1860 directory was described as “rather circuitous in the pursuit of his dental practice.”  He formed partnerships with several different practitioners but they usually were dissolved in short order.  Dr. C. L. Adams broke with this man, Dr. Sheets, after less than a year.  He later said, “Sheets was a good operator, capable of doing most excellent crown and bridgework, but was shiftless and negligent both as to office conduct and personal care.”

                There were some basic differences, over advertising and making claims that could not be substantiated either with patients or through paid advertisements.

                Also, Dayton dentists split just as violently as any in the amalgam controversy that started about 1850.  With the introduction of amalgam as a filling material, those who would use nothing but gold foil immediately declared open war on those who would try the cheaper substitute.

                Drury, in his history of Dayton and Montgomery County, published in 1909, wrote that the first efforts by Dayton dentists to organize in 1855 were in vain because of strained relationships between some of the practitioners.

                The first dental society in the world, “The Society of Surgeon Dentists of the City and State of New York,” was organized in New York City in December, 1834, but it was short-lived with members not able to determine a definite purpose.  In 1840, the American Society of Surgeons was organized and it adopted a constitution which stated the Society’s objects:

                “To promote union and harmony among all respectable and well informed dental surgeons;   to advance the science by free communication and interchange of sentiments, either written or verbal, between members of the Society, both in this and other countries; in fine, to give character and respectability to the profession, by establishing a line of distinction between the truly meritorious and skillful, and such as riot on the illgotten fruit of unblushing imprudence and empiricism.”

                Only one Ohioan, Melancthon Rogers, M.D., of Cincinnati, was listed among the original members.  But Dr. Chapin Harris, by then moved to Baltimore, was elected the society’s first corresponding secretary.

                In 1842 the Virginia Society of Surgeon Dentists became the third dental society, and on Jan. 6, 1844, the Cincinnati Association of Surgeon Dentists held its first meeting.  This fourth dental society was chartered by the State of Ohio on Feb. 2, 1844.  Dr. Rogers was elected the first president.  It was reorganized in 1848.               


Mississippi Valley Association

                Dayton dentists were first identified with the fifth dental society to be constituted, the Mississippi Valley Association of Dental Surgeons.  It was organized as a regional society at a meeting in Cincinnati August 13 and 14, 1844.            

                The Genesis of Dental Education in the United States by Dr. Van B. Dalton lists among “gentlemen present’ at the first meeting, James Clark of Lebanon and D.B. Wheeler of Xenia.  A. Bashaw of Dayton was listed as being present by proxy.  Other records indicate Drs. William A. Pease and B. A. Satterthwait were present and Dr. John Jones also has been identified as being active in the Mississippi Valley Association.

                Minutes of the first meetings and newspaper accounts do not spell out why the first dental association involving Dayton dentists was organized at Xenia.  Apparently the strong desire of Dr. George Watt of Xenia influenced the decision, for it was in his office that the Mad River Valley Dental Association actually was born.  In autumn of 1859 Dr. A. A. Blount of Springfield and Dr. George L. Paine of Xenia met in Dr. Watt’s office and set a date for the group’s preliminary meeting, to be held in Springfield.

                The Mad River, usually quite peaceful but a torrent in times of heavy runoff when its channels changed crazily, has its source in Logan County and winds like a serpent through Champaign, Clark, Greene and Montgomery Counties, emptying into the Great Miami River at Dayton.  So it was the Mad River Association which was to pull together dentists all the way from Bellefontaine to Dayton—and eventually south as far as Cincinnati.

                At the first meeting in Springfield on Oct. 25, 1859, dentists gathered from Dayton, Troy, Piqua, Sidney, Bellefontaine, Urbana, London, Xenia, and Springfield.  A constitution and by-laws for the Mad River Valley Dental Association was adopted, and Dr. Watt was chosen president.  Dr. Paine was elected secretary.

                The dentists under the Mad River designation chose well, for Dr. Watt was later to become the first president of the Ohio State Dental Society in 1866, and to add further to his distinction when he was reelected the following year—the only dentist ever to hold the post for two consecutive terms.  And he was elected president of the American Dental Association on the same day he became a member, the only instance of the kind on record.  Dr. Watt was much interested in chemistry while in medical school and in 1853 made the first attempt at adapting lectures in chemistry to the needs of dental students at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.  In 1867 he published a volume, “Watt’s Chemical Essays,” which included the principal papers he had written on dental chemistry.

                With Dr. Jonathan Taft, his partner of many years in Xenia, Dr. Watt became owner and editor of the Dental Register of the West.   It was a liberal contributor to the literature of the profession.  When illness—aggravated by a Civil War injury received when a falling wagon crushed him—forced him to relinquish actual practice, he took over the editorship of the Ohio Journal of Dental Science in 1881.  He died at Xenia in 1893.

                The first regular meeting of the Mad River Association was held in Springfield, Nov. 17, 1859, with Dr. G. L. Paine reading a paper on “Crown Cavities in Molar Teeth” and Dr. M. H. Oldham of Springfield reading a paper on “Impressions”.

                At Xenia on Jan. 4, 1860, a code of office ethics and a fee bill were presented and adopted.  Dr. Edward C. Mills quoted from the minutes, “the fee bill had a tendency upwards.  When good prices are adopted, time, energy and skill can be expended for the perfection of operations.”  He also quoted about the early 1860 meeting, “Members are earnest and determined to produce something valuable in their association.”        

                It was not until the fifth quarterly meeting that the association met in Dayton.  On July 3, 1860, Dr. W. W. Pease was host in his office.  Drs. Calvin Bradkey and John E. Jones were the other Dayton dentists present.  The constitution was amended to provide for election of a treasurer and an examining committee.

                Dr. Josiah Ramsey of Springfield was elected treasurer, and Drs. A. A. Blount of Springfield, Samuel Clippinger of Bellefontaine and Dr. Pease were named to the Examining Committee.

                The first year’s anniversary was noted Oct. 4, 1860, at a meeting in Bellefontaine at which time it was reported “the object of this Society is the elevation of the profession, both as morals and good works, striving in all cases to render our patrons full value received for their money.”


Mad River Society Dissolves

                Twice the organization faltered.  There were about 20 members when the Mad River Valley Association met in Dayton, again in the office of Dr. Pease, on April 1, 1862.  The host dentist read a paper on “The Use of Arsenic.”  The next meeting was set for July in Dayton, but never took place, and no further meetings are recorded until a reorganization meeting in Springfield on April 27, 1865.

                The Dental Register of May, 1863, did relate under “Practical Thoughts,”  (suggested by the dissolution of the Mad River Valley Association) by William A. Pease: “…when it is so organized that there is a strong pecuniary interest for some of the members to evade the provisions, or violate its rules of government, and it is of no great benefit to any of its members, it will soon begin to languish and it will die.  This was the condition of our society and it will be the same with any society, having any considerable members outside of large cities, which established a fee bill so high that it is in the interest of any of its members to disregard it.”

                When reorganized, Dr. G. L. Paine, the first secretary, was chosen president, and Dr. Watt, original president, became corresponding secretary.  Dr. John Blake of Springfield was the recording secretary.

                After a meeting in Urbana, the June, 1865, edition of the Dental Register stated, “The Mad River Valley Association, after a suspension of operation, recently organized with better indications and prospects than at any other time.”

                In 1870 the Mad River Association had 40 members and was holding two meetings a year.  The May 4-5, 1870, sessions were held at the Ohio Dental College in Cincinnati, with Dr. A. Berry of that city elected president.  Among topics for discussion at the October, 1870, meeting in Troy, was “Mechanical Dentistry in All Its Phases.”

                None of the group’s officers were present at the May 15, 1872, meeting in Xenia, indicating some difficulties, and Dr. George Watt, the Mad River Association’s first president in 1859, was chosen president Pro Tem.

                Following a meeting in Xenia on Oct. 3, 1876, nothing more is recorded of the Society until the Dental Register published notice of an Oct. 24, 1882, meeting in Dayton “to revive the good—the best little society.”

                For four years, annual meetings were held until May, 1887, when the Mad River society postponed its May meeting to unite that October with the meeting of the Ohio State Dental Society in Springfield.

                The agenda for the May, 1889, meeting called for the Mad River society to start an effort to begin district work in this section of the state.  The Seventh District Dental Society was organized May 21, 1889, and the Mad River Association was absorbed.  The district included Adams, Butler, Brown, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Green, Hamilton, Montgomery, Preble and Warren Counties.

                The district society was an auxiliary to the Ohio State Dental Society, which had been organized June 26 and 27, 1866, in Columbus.  The state was divided into eight districts and component societies, but only the seventh at Dayton and the Second District at Toledo were formalized.


Dayton Society Born

                In December, 1900, a group of Dayton Dentists met in the office of Dr. J. L. Zell and held the first of a series of sessions that resulted in organization of the Miami Valley Dental Society in February of 1903.  Dr. O. B. Kneisly, relating the history in 1950, wrote, “later in 1906 the society was reorganized, probably due to internal disturbances; and in November, 1909, it was again reorganized but this time as a component of the Ohio State Society with Montgomery and Greene counties compromising the district.”

                Dr. H. A. Hubbard was the new president when the 1906 reorganization was completed, and Dr. J. M. Chase was president after the 1909 reorganization.  On Oct. 2, 1922, the name of the Miami Valley Dental Society was changed to the Dayton Dental Society.  At that time the society had 94 members.

                Dr. M. H. Glossinger served the society as treasurer for a record 35 years, and on Dec. 2, 1957, he was elected treasurer emeritus.


Dayton Dentists Active

                Montgomery county dentists had supported formation of the state society in the post-Civil War Period, and although the Dayton Dental Society did not become a state component until 1909, Dayton dentists had been active in the state group for many years.

                Dr. L. E. Custer—who contributed more than any other Dayton dentist to the profession—was named president of the Ohio State Dental Association in 1896.             

                The colorful inventor-practitioner was the first of four Daytonians who thus served the state association in its first 100 years.

                Dr. Zacharia Norton Wright—longest name in the first century’s procession of presidents—was president of the Ohio Association in 1918.  A native of Lynchburg, Ohio, Dr. Wright was graduated in 1898 from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery at Cincinnati and started his practice in Tipp City.  He’s the only one of the four to hold the top state post that never was president of the Dayton Dental Society.

                He moved to Miami. Fla., due to ill health in 1921, but soon resumed practice on a limited basis.

                Dr. O. B. Kneisly—whose research and historical writings for the Dayton Dental Society have left a heritage beyond compare—was president of the Ohio Society in 1935.  He was president of the Dayton society in 1939.

                Completing the list of Dayton state presidents in the first 100 years was Dr. Theodore E. Lilly, born in Hinton, W. Va.  He was seven when his family came down the Ohio River by boat to settle at Portsmouth.

                His first full time job while attending Portsmouth school was in a shoe factory where he earned seven cents an hour; if he worked the full 55 hours week he earned $3.85.

                Dr. Lilly enrolled in 1915 as a pre-medical student at Oberlin College, but World War I interrupted that plan at the end of his sophomore year.  He joined the Navy but after a few months went into the Army at a Chicago University base hospital.  After two months’ training, he was sent overseas for 11 months duty in France.

                In 1919 he enrolled at Indiana Dental College and upon graduation selected Dayton to start his dental practice.

                World War II interrupted his life, as had the first conflict, and he spent four and a half years in the Army Dental Corps.

                Dr. Lilly was president of the Dayton Dental Society in 1929.  He was a delegate to the American Dental Association, and in 1957 was elected president of the Ohio State Dental Association.

                Dr. Ora B. Kneisly was a man of tremendous energy and intense interests who often found his civic connections demanding more time than he was giving his patients.

                He left his mark in many places, but perhaps the history of Dayton dentistry he collected and wrote will serve longest to identify him with his colleagues.  For five years he wrote a regular feature, “Dayton Dental Historian,” for the bulletin published by the Dayton Dental Society.  He wrote once that he spent 20 years collecting history almost from the time he was born in Osborn (a Greene County town moved after the 1913 flood and combined with neighboring Fairfield to become Fairborn) on July 23, 1878.

                Dr. Kneisly worked diligently at assembling history.  He carried on volumes of correspondence with friends and descendants of early Dayton dentists, he visited cemeteries, he poured through historical groups’ collections, always with the tenet of good reporters:  “try to get the facts complete and straight.”

                In the January, 1951 Bulletin he wrote after one cemetery visit in pursuit of facts, “When I finally found the place of his interment, I was amazed to learn not even a cheap headstone had been erected by his relative who had profited by his demise.”  Then, as an aside, “I would remind you, in your will (and by all means make one) make provisions for the disposal of your remains and the proper marking of your resting place.”

                At the age of 15, Dr. Kneisly moved 10 miles from his birthplace to Dayton, taking refuge under the wings of his uncle, Dr. C. S. Beyl, practicing dentist who was a member of the honorguard at Abraham Lincoln’s bier.

                Dr. Beyl permitted him to be an office boy and keep the place clean in return for an introduction to dentistry.  But his uncle informed him that his duties in the office were the price of his education and he must find other employment for his room and board.  That led him to the nearby Beckel Hotel where for three years he lived and worded eight to 12 hours a day as a check clerk for what he later related as “the fine salary of three bucks a week” and tips.

                Dr. Kneisly matriculated at Cincinnati’s Ohio College of Dental Surgery in 1897, transferred the next year to the Ohio Medical University at Columbus and was graduated from there in 1900.  Unable to find a suitable location in Indiana, he returned to Dayton and started what was to total more than 50 years of practice.

                In January, 1951, the Dayton Dental Society Bulletin said, as the group honored its president emeritus, that Dr. Kneisly’s “contribution as a practitioner is exceeded only by his accomplishments along organization and legislative lines. Every dentist is Ohio is indebted to him for his many years of superior service in the Ohio State Dental Association, a service climaxed in the formation and enactment of the Ohio Dental Law.”

                His tremendous energy displayed itself early in his career, in 1905 he ws named attending dentist at the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans Home at Xenia and was invited to the position of dental surgeon at West Point.

                After journeying to the Academy in an April snowstorm that brought him near the point of pneumonia, he later wrote, “I was forced to quit the Point in the middle of an examination as the rules prevented giving more than temporary treatment at the cadet hospital. I never went back to complete the examination.”

                In 1909 Dr. Kneisly federated all the improvement and civic associations of metropolitan Dayton and was elected as president, serving until 1922.

                In that period he served on the commission that wrote the city charter for Dayton, the first major city in the U.S. to adopt the city manager form of government. That was in 1913.

                In this same period Dr. Kneisly later recalled he was on the board of directors for several organizations and was president of two sport organizations. “So you understand why I had to get out of some of my activities or out of dentistry”,” he said.

                But his record does not bear that out, s least not in activities of the profession. In 1915 Dr. Kneisly began to take an active part in organized dentistry and in 1916 he was serving on the Dayton Society’s Censor Committee.           

                In 1914 Dr. Kneisly raised $2400 among friends and distinguished citizens like C. F. Kettering, John H. Patterson and Col. E. A. Deeds and established the first hospital dental clinic at St. Elizabeth hospital.

                The matter was first presented to the board of the Miami Valley Hospital, but Dr. Kneisly said they turned thumbs down on the clinic proposal. At a staff meeting of St. Elizabeth hospital, they accepted the plan within an hour and a dental staff was appointed consisting of Dr.s Kneisly, Penfield, and Crume. The others left the project about a year later, but Dr. Kneisly served as senior staff member for 27 years, after which he retired from the active staff to the consulting staff.

                Too old for active service in World War I, Dr. Kneisly volunteered to serve the Dayton-based half of  Ohio’s Third Regiment, Ohio National Guard, as dental surgeon.  The regiment’s own dental surgeon was sent to Cincinnati with the other half of the regiment. In the same war-time period, he represented this section of the state on the Federal Coal Commission.


Kneisly Works for Dental Law

                It was while he was president of the Ohio Dental Society for the 1935-36 term that the Ohio Dental Law was presented to the state legislature and after months of campaigning was enacted into law. Later he effected the organization of the Past President’s Club of the State organization, and for many years he was chairman of the State’s Historical Committee.

                In 1938, the State Society purchased the Bainbridge building in which John Harris practiced and gave instruction in what now is referred to as “The Cradle of Dental Education” and in 1940 restored it and converted it into a museum and shrine of dentistry. Dr. Kneisly was a member of the board of trustees of the Dr. John Harris Memorial.

                Dr. Kneisly and Dr. Homer Brown represented organized dentistry in the writing of the first schedule of fees to be paid by the Industrial Commission of Ohio.

                He modestly summed his own activities in this way: “Proceeding on the assumption that you can’t take everything out and never put anything back in, I have tried to contribute my small mite to the progress and standing of the profession. I have given but little, but the returns in benefits and fellowship have been beyond all bounds of expectations.”

                While Dr. Kneisly’s historical accounts will long be quoted, Dr. Earl J. Spencer should come in for some credit. He was editor f the Dayton Dental Society Bulletin that reached its zenith under his supervision from 1950 to 1955.  It was Dr. Spencer who urged Dr. Kneisly to set down the history in monthly column form.

                The first edition of the Bulletin was published in September, 1950, with Dr. J. Clair Routsong as president of the Dayton Society. From a total of 220 that first issue, circulation climbed to 450 in 1955, not to mention the press run of 1000 during annual clinic meetings in March.

                The Bulletin in that period was self-supporting and included from 10 to 16 pages, with at least one color used in printing the cover of each issue.

                In his retirement message in that June, 1955, issue, Dr. Spencer announced that Dr. Roger Kuhn who had been “my right hand for the last year or so” would take over the editorship. He wrote, “We will get out of the Bulletin just exactly what we put into it… It has been a pleasure to serve you.”