Thursday, May 13, 2010

Covering the territory

One of the stock phrases we use around here when talking about the early days of the OHSU School of Medicine is that it was for many years the only medical school north of San Francisco and west of Denver. But did you know that for some years, the OHSU School of Dentistry was the only one north of San Francisco and west of Minneapolis? This is one of many interesting bits of information included in a 1945 article recently received here at the archives.

Virgil Smith's article "Dental School Goal Finally Reached: Casual Committee Task Undertaken at Behest of University of Oregon Becomes Life Work for Dr. Miller" ran a full page in the Sunday Oregonian for June 17, 1945. The piece chronicles the story of the school from its inception in 1898 as the Oregon College of Dentistry, through its merger with the Tacoma College of Dental Surgery in 1899 and the changing of its name to North Pacific College of Oregon, to its inclusion in the state system of higher education as the University of Oregon Dental School on July 1, 1945.

We read that Horace Miller, M.D, D.M.D., was first approached by the University of Oregon about establishing a dental unit in the early 1890s, shortly after Miller had arrived in Portland from Nebraska. The author gingerly describes the environment of dental politics in turn-of-the-century Portland:
There were some practitioners of dentistry in Portland in those days who were rugged individualists, and the committee eventually reported to the university regents that the time was not propitious for a dental school. First, it would be advisable to get the practicing dentists together in an organization, which would support such an institution and provide a competent faculty.
Meanwhile, the Tacoma school had opened and quickly relocated to Portland. By the time the Oregon dentists were ready to embark upon educational endeavors, the accrediting body of the Association of Dental Faculties was reluctant to support two schools in such close proximity. When Miller's proposal to merge the two institutions met with resistance from the stockholders of the Tacoma College, he quietly bought up 51 percent of the shares. (Dentist, doctor, and savvy businessman, apparently!)

In 1908, the North Pacific College opened its school of pharmacy (which lasted until 1941). In 1924 the school changed from a private to a public trust, and while it continued to do well financially, Miller continued to seek affiliation with the UO (NPC was one of only two dental schools, of 39 in the country at that time, that were not affiliated with a larger university). And so, in 1945, the state legislature approved the creation of the University of Oregon Dental School. In 1974, the dental school, along with the medical and nursing schools, joined together to create the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center, which in 1981 changed its name to the Oregon Health Sciences University. And the rest, as they say, is history!

The complete article is included here (click on image for a larger version).

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