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Aug. 11, 1889: Girl dentist 'pretty and popular'

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: December 15, 2009 - 6:38 PM
Here's the latest in a series of Minneapolis Tribune stories on women in various professions that will eventually land me in Human Resources many, many decades after they were first published.

A GIRL DENTIST.

Who is Pretty and Popular, and Has an

Income of $5,000 a

Year.

She fills a Tooth for a Reporter, and Chats

Pleasantly About Her

Business.

A dentist is no longer a king of terrors. She is a queen of beauty, says the New York Morning Journal. How pleasant to see a sweet, delicate, girlish face bent over yours as you lean back in the fatal chair of torture! How delightful to gaze up into tender blue or black eyes, and feel that soft tendrils of hair are sweeping your brow like a summer zephyr!

It is any wonder that young lady dentists are successful, and that their number is constantly on the increase? New York supports several, and it was to one of the number that I went not long ago for advice on the subject of a tooth.

The house to which I was directed was a small high-stoop, brown stone dwelling, with the dentist’s name on a silver plate. A neat, white-capped handmaiden opened the door and I was ushered into a pretty parlor in which dainty scarfs and bits of bric-a-brack, comfortable chairs and easels with large photographs upon them made a charming nook in which to meditate over the approaching terrors of the dentist’s chair.

“Will you walk this way?” said a sweet voice.

A pretty, fluffy blonde head was thrust between the folding doors at the back of the drawing-room. I complied with the request and was soon seated in a big  chair opposite a high window.

It gave me a new and pleasurable sensation to feel those white and dainty fingers entering my mouth and adjusting a little round mirror for examination. They seemed good enough to eat. And when the soft cheek nearly touched mine it was all I could do to restrain myself from jumping up and hugging the lovely young dentist on the spot.

“Let me know if I hurt you,” said the dentist soothingly, as she began to scrape away at the offending tooth.

I was so fascinated by the sight of her pretty, deft wrist directly under my nose that I could have borne any amount of torture without a murmur. There were muscles like steel in that pretty wrist, by the way.

“What led you to become a dentist?” I asked, as the charming operator turned away for a bit of cotton.

“Love for the work,” she replied. “Teeth have always had a charm for me. When I was a child I was always examining cats’ and dogs’ teeth. I filled a tooth for a pet dog of my own once and every member of my family came to me when anything was wrong with his or her dental organs. I used to prescribe for toothache for half the neighborhood in which I lived in Western New York.”

A bit of perfumed cotton went into my sore tooth and stopped conversation for the moment.

“Where did you learn dentistry?” I asked, as the sweet young dentist (she was not more than 25) wiped her hands with a soft sponge dipped in lavender water.

“I graduated from the dental college at Philadelphia,” replied the young lady. “The New York College of Dentistry does not, you know, admit women. I had to go to Philadelphia to study, but I returned to New York to practise, because the field is wider here. I have been a dentist for five years, and my practise has steadily increased, so that I now make about $5,000 a year by my profession.”

I stole a glance at the slight wrists which looked so incapable of grappling with molars.

“Do you pull teeth as well as fill them?” I asked.

“Not often,” said the dentist, giving a shake to her cream-colored India silk draperies that were caught in the arm of the chair. “It would not pay me to strain my wrist for a sort of work that can be done by almost anyone. There is nothing artistic in the process of extracting teeth – any bungler can do it. I pull teeth for children more often than for grown people. Milk teeth are no trouble to pull.”

“What sort of people do you number among your customers?”

“All sorts – ladies, children, a few gentlemen, and a large number of school-girls of the strong-minded, independent sort. Most of my clients are recommended to me by others. I do not, as a rule, care to treat strangers, especially men.”

“Then why did you treat me?” I inquired.

The blush rose-tint on the fair face deepened and there was a merry twinkle in the blue eyes.

“Because Mary, that’s my maid, gave a good report of you. We dentists have to use tact and discrimination as much as other people.”

With this the young lady handed me my bill, which she had been making out. I paid it and put the receipted document in my pocket as carefully as if it had been a love letter, and thus ended my first visit to the charming girl dentist, but it was not my last.

 

Dr. Olga Lentz was one of St. Paul's first female dentists. No wispy tendrils of hair appear to be sweeping over the compliant patient in this photo from about 1910. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

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