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School of Dentistry
School of Dentistry

By Bernard A. Cook, Ph.D.

A History of the School of Dentistry

The final project of Fr. Albert Biever and Fr. Patrick Ryan, Loyola University’s first president and vice president, respectively, was the dental school. They asked Victor Vignes, D.D.S., to organize a dental department for Loyola. According to Ryan, “Tulane’s Dental Department had at this time so deteriorated that its two best professors—Dr. [Samuel H.] McAfee and Dr. Fuller (sic) [Charles S. Tuller]—were planning to resign from the faculty and Dr. Vignes, who had his ear close to the ground and was familiar with all of the gossip, hastened their decision.” Though a number of the top dentists in New Orleans, among them Jules J. Sarrazin, J.A. Gorman, and E.A. Gamard, were willing to work without pay until Loyola was in a position to remunerate them, McAfee and Tuller would need to be compensated. Loyola had to come up with $5,000.

Ryan found a ready solution. Many lay people had been distressed by the reassignment of Biever, but Ryan counseled them that protest would be useless. Instead, he suggested they establish a “Father Biever Chair of Science at Loyola.” Ryan sought contributions, and there was enthusiasm, but his hoped-for goal of $30,000 was not realized. Nevertheless, $8,000 had been contributed and Ryan suggested this be used to launch the Father Biever Memorial Dental School. This suggestion carried the day, but not without a hitch.

In what Biever called “a recurrence of the old malady,” Moynihan was convinced that the dental school would be a financial failure. An “estrangement with unpleasant consequences took place between the Provincial Father Moynihan and Dr. Vignes, Dean of Loyola Dental,” Ryan wrote. Though Marquette Hall was “virtually empty and waiting for a student body,” the provincial would not let the dental school hold classes there during its first year. He suggested an off-campus site. “Dr. Vignes ‘hit the ceiling’ at this suggestion and for two months would not come near Father Moynihan.” Despite Moynihan’s misgivings, the dental school moved to Marquette Hall in September 1915, and with it “quite a few” former Tulane dental students, who followed their professors to Loyola.

The Loyola dental school was the only school of dentistry in Louisiana at the time, and a number of other Southern states did not have dental schools. This gave importance and prominence to the Loyola program. The initial faculty of the dental school consisted of 26 doctors of medicine and doctors of dental surgery. When the school opened on October 6, 1914, the course of study was three years; in 1917, it was expanded to four years. Eventually the requirement for entry into the program was increased to two years of pre-professional academic work. To provide clinical experience for the students, an outpatient dental-surgery clinic was eventually set up in Bobet Hall. The clinic was staffed by students, who practiced under the supervision of their teachers. The Loyola dental students also received experience in hospital practice at the Louisiana State Charity Hospital.

In 1915, the first class graduated from Loyola’s School of Dentistry. It was composed of three students who had transferred to the new school, and all were male: J.L. Boyd, W.J. Healey, and Conrad L. O’Niell. However, women attended Loyola’s dental school almost from its inception. In 1918, Mary Jane Howard, the first woman to graduate from Loyola’s dental school, received her D.D.S.

The importance of the professional schools to Loyola’s growth and survival is clear in the student roster in Loyola’s 1914 – 1915 bulletin, which listed 197 students. Only 23 were enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences. Pharmacy had 85 students, Law had 55, and Dentistry had 27 students. The success of the three schools encouraged the Jesuits to think of establishing additional professional schools, but Loyola’s subsequent attempts to launch schools of medicine, architecture, and engineering were not successful.

In 1912, the science program, which included courses in modern languages, science, English, mathematics, history, and philosophy, had been transformed into a four-year program leading to a B.S. degree. A one-year pre-medical program was also introduced; it was expanded to two years in 1917.

C. Victor Vignes, the founding dean of Loyola’s School of Dentistry, held that post until 1937, with the exception of 1918 – 1919 when he handed it over to Jules J. Sarrazin. The dental program, which required three years when it opened in September 1914, had been extended to four years in 1917 – 1918. Initially, it accepted high school graduates, but beginning in 1926, candidates for admission had to have completed a year in an accredited college. The dental school and its clinic were located in Marquette Hall until the completion of Bobet Hall, where they were located until the dental school closed in 1971.

In 1936, there were 25 dentistry graduates, two of whom were women. The 1940 graduating class was exceptionally large—there were 46 graduates, including two women. Vignes continued to serve as dean of Loyola’s School of Dentistry until 1937. Sidney L. Tiblier, D.D.S., then became dean, a post he held until February 1945. Tiblier received his A.B. from Loyola in 1917. While working on an M.A. at Loyola, he taught chemistry in the dental school, then became a student there, receiving his D.D.S. Tiblier began teaching dentistry at Loyola in 1930.

As early as 1947, Loyola’s board had considered the possibility of closing the School of Dentistry and shifting its operation to the state system. It had not been self-sustaining, and the university was forced to supplement the school’s income from tuition and the dental clinics with a yearly subsidy of approximately $50,000. In the early 1960s, Loyola had contemplated moving its dental school to a downtown location near Charity Hospital and hoped that some sort of cooperative arrangement could be worked out with the state. But when the state of Louisiana announced it would build a dental school in New Orleans, Loyola decided it could not compete with a state-run school. Ultimately Loyola decided that the dental school was not essential to its mission and the university could not afford it. In May 1966, Loyola announced its decision to phase out the dental school one year at a time by not enrolling a new freshman class after 1967 – 1968, and the school closed with the graduation of its last class in 1971.

Taken from Founded on Faith: A History of Loyola University New Orleans by Bernard A. Cook, Ph.D., Provost Distinguished Professor of History. Available for purchase at the Loyola bookstore.

View the complete spring 2013 issue of LOYNO.

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