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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Dr. Gordon Schwalbe
INTERVIEWER: Joyce Miller
DATE: February 17, 1977
M: This is Joyce Miller. I'm interviewing Dr. Schwalbe at his office on
S.W. Second Avenue. We're going to talk about Dr. Schwalbe when he came
to Gainesville and what it was like being a dentist in the thirties.
It's February 17, 4:15 in the afternoon. Okay, Dr. Schwalbe, we were
talking about the fact that you came from Wisconsin and then went to
M: Hollywood, Florida. What, in the first place, made you come from Wisconsin
S: The night I graduated from dental college, a classmate of mine and I went
out on a party. We celebrated two nights and one day. Near the end of
this party he reminded me that we were going to have to get started to
go to Florida to pass the state board. I couldn't remember much about
making that promise. Well, he convinced me that I had, but I had already
matriculated to take the state board examination in California. I wanted
to go to California. I wanted to be a movie colony dentist. But this
changed my mind. He convinced me that Florida was a young state, had a
lot of growth and good prospects ahead of it, which I hadn't considered
at all. So we both came down to Jacksonville along about July of 1925.
I graduated from Marquette University in 1925 and this classmate's name
was Larson. We took the state board exam in Jacksonville in the Armory.
There were no chairs. You furnished your own dental engines and your own
instruments. I seated my patient on a kitchen chair and used one of the
gymnasium horses for a head rest and used a foot engine that I used in
school. This was one that you pump with your foot. I prepared an inlay
and a gold casting and cemented it right there during this state board
examination. I had an articulator for setting up artificial dentures
called a Munson articulator. Dr. Munson invented this thing. He was from
Minnesota, and I think he might have been a teacher at the University of
Minnesota dental school. I think there were five state board examiners
at that time, and the man that had the denture department became very much
interested in this articulator. He'd never seen one before. So Larsen
and I set up our dentures and presented them for examination. This
doctor's name was Hall. He was from Pensacola. Before we got through
with him, we had to give him a short course in the use of this articulator,
so we felt quite sure we'd passed at least that part of the examination.
What was your question? Why did I come to Florida?
M: Right, to Hollywood especially.
S: That's didn't answer?
M: Then what made you go from Jacksonville to Hollywood?
S: I had to wait about two months. I was working nights for the Western Union
at that time in Milwaukee. That's how I got through dental school. I
went to work at five o'clock in the afternoon and was on an eight-hour
shift until one o'clock a.m. I lived up on the other end of town. I
had to catch what they called an owl car, the last car left at one o'clock
and they ran every hour after that. I had some eight o'clock a.m. classes
so I didn't get much sleep. I learned how to live on about five or six
hours sleep a day. Some, not always, in one stretch, broken up. I'd
sleep on the streetcar or any place that I could grab a little rest. I
would sit up close to the conductor or the motorman and he'd wake me up
when we got to my corner.
M: Your stop.
S: After about two months we both, Dr. Larson and I, were notified that we
had passed the Florida State Board. Just about that time there was a
pretty good land boom on in Florida. The Western Union was doing quite
a bit of business down here and they were short of experienced help. I
had experience in the cashier department and accepting telegrams in the
commercial department, not in the traffic department. Traffic department
was the one that sends the messages. So the Western Union posted a notice
on the bulletin board that anybody who wanted to transfer to Florida from
Milwaukee should put in their application. So I did. I was married and
my wife was working there at the same time. I asked to be transferred to
West Palm Beach. That's where I wanted to open up, in West Palm Beach
or in the southeastern part of the state. I was transferred down there.
When I got down to the Western Union in West Palm Beach, the manager made
me night manager. This was a twenty-four hour office, open twenty-four
hours a day. This was a very busy office with a lot of money transactions
and business telephones, telegrams at night. I think we'd report for work
around five o'clock p.m. and we'd also get off around one o'clock a.m.
We'd start at five o'clock with maybe fifteen or sixteen girls at the
counter. They were elbow to elbow accepting telegrams and giving the cus-
tomers telegrams that you could drop in and call for, any business that
could be transacted at the counter, walk-in business. But the Western
Union had a rule at that time that if any of these women employees did not
have an escort when ready to leave, then it was the duty of the night
manager to see that they got home. They couldn't call or take a cab. I
would either have to accompany them in the cab and then take the cab back
to the office, or take them in my car. That was a little unusual.
M: Were you in Hollywood when you got that announcement that you had passed
S: No. I went to work at Western Union. I went to work in West Palm Beach.
M: Oh, excuse me, I meant West Palm Beach.
S: My classmate, Larson, didn't have a job. But we met a couple of dentists
from Alabama when we took the state board in Jacksonville and one of
them was named Jimmy Armstrong, later very well known in the Miami area.
He passed away a number of years ago. He was working for a dentist in
West Palm Beach, Dr. Burke Earman, one of the leading dentists of West
PalmBeach. There was no dentist in Palm Beach at that time. All the
dentists were over in West Palm Beach and there weren't very many of them.
But Jimmy Armstrong wanted to leave West Palm Beach and go to Miami. He
had a very good friend down there, Dr. Andes. I think Dr. Andes is probably
still living. Armstrong went down to Miami and I took his place in Dr.
Earman's office, which was right across the street from the Western Union
up on the fourth floor in Comeau Building. I can look out of my dental
office window right down at the front door of the Western Union. I
could quit my dental work at 4:30, quarter till five, and then go down to
the Western Union and be the night manager down there until one o'clock
M: So you did both jobs.
S: There was a lot or responsibility in the Western Union office and, of
course, this was my first practice in dentistry in Dr. Earman's office.
So I had a pretty rough schedule and I couldn't keep that up. I only
kept it up for probably a month or two. You could hardly find a place
to live in West Palm Beach. My wife was staying with some friends in
Jacksonville and I was staying at the American Legion. The American
Legion had a home there, four or five rooms to rent at ridiculously low
prices. Rooms at that time would rent for anywhere from thirty-five to
fifty dollars a week. I think I got a room over at the American Legion
for less than ten, something like that. I stayed there and this was
within two blocks of both the dental office and the Western Union.
Dr. Larson was checking around different places Cseeking a location
for him and me to open an office]. He decided that Hollywood had a good
opening. There were a few dentists there, not very many, but with the
real estate boom on. There were a lot of people coming into Florida.
There were rooms available for a dental office on the second floor of a
real estate office building and so I quit the Western Union before I quit
the dental office working for Dr. Earman. Along about the early part of
1926, we opened this office together in Hollywood, Florida. That's how we
got down there. Up until that time Ihad not passed the Wisconsin State
Board. The Wisconsin State Board was given at the same time that the Florida
board was in 1925, so I took the Florida board and in September, 1926, I
went back to Milwaukee to take the Wisconsin board, took it and passed it.
My wife and I got back to West Palm Beach just before the storm
started. A hurricane of 1926 was a bad hurricane. A lot of people were
killed Cin Florida, especially along the lower east coast]. My wife and I
stayed in West Palm Beach during the storm and as soon as we could get
through we went down to Hollywood. The office had been pretty well
damaged. Part of the roof had blown off and the windows blown out, and
the place was water soaked, just one thing or another. Also about that
time the FLorida boom had busted, the banks were closing. If somebody
gave you a check, you'd have to hurry over to the bank to get there
before the bank folded. It was a bad time and my wife was quite unhappy
about the whole situation. She wanted to go back to Madison. She was
from Madison, Wisconsin. There was a state dental meeting to be held
in Daytona in November, so I persuaded.her to stay until the state dental
meeting because we didn't know when we'd get back again. I still liked
Florida. I attended the state dental meeting in November and this is
where I met Dr. Tison.
Along with about five or six, at least, other dentists in other
parts of the state that were looking for a younger associate, there was
Dr. Tison in Gainesville, dentists from Palatka, Fort Myers, Panama
City, Jacksonville. I had talked to all of them, then decided to come
to Gainesville. That's how I got to Gainesville. I arrived in Gainesville
in November of '26. I don't remember the exact date but sometime during
M: Later on you became known as the triumvirate of Gainesville dentistry.
S: Become what?
M: Well, you and Dr. Morrison, Sr., and Dr. Tison became like the three
dentists in town. There were other dentists, but you all seemed to set
the example. Was this something that...?
S: I'm not sure that the other dentists would appreciate that.
M: That's what I was going to ask you.
S: I like to hear it [though, but I think it depends on who you talk to].
Where'd you get this from?
M: From other people who lived here then. I just wonder if that's something
you three were aware of or is it something that has been labeled since
G: Before I thought about coming to Florida, the reason I wanted to go to
California was because I had talked to a Hollywood, California dentist
who was working for the movie colony, or in that area, Beverly Hills.
He had a very lucrative, high-class practice and these people were very
exacting and wanted the best precise dentistry. That was primarily what
they were looking for. But it was a kind of a glamourous thing and so
I wanted to be the best or one of the best dentists wherever I practiced.
When I came to Gainesville, Dr. Tison showed me his patients. He'd show
me fillings that had been in the mouth fifteen, twenty years and better.
Beautiful work, and I was astounded and amazed at the workmanship, the
quality, and this impressed me very much, so this is where I wanted to
stay and learn all I could from him. I came here on a one-month trial
basis and he was very tactful. He was a very tactful man and gentleman
that said that we'll try this out for a month. He said, "You might not
like me and I might not like you," and he said, "Let's talk it over again
in a month." My pay was sixty dollars a week for the month. But at the
end of the month we just never got together and talked about it. So
at the end of the second month I told him, "I'm not earning my money
here." I said, "I'd be much happier if you were satisfied with me to go
on the usual percentage basis." The usual percentage basis at that time
was that the dentist that you were associated with, who owned the office,
paid you fifty percent of the fees that you collected for the work you
did. If you did a hundred dollars worth of work, which was a lot of work
in those days, collected the money for it, you earned fifty dollars. But
if you did a hundred dollars worth of work and only collected fifty
dollars, you only earned twenty-five. So it was up to you to do the work
and collect the money. You also paid for your own assistants. Other
than that, the dentist that you were associated with footed all the bills.
M: How long did you stay associated with Dr. Tison?
S: Let me see, from 1926....It was Dr. Morrison, Sr., Dr. Tison and myself,
and we each had an assistant, and we had a receptionist. There was a lot
of traffic in the office and a lot of patients coming and going. He
said that he wanted to get away from all this commotion and move down
the street in small office by himself again. So he did. Just when he did
that, I can't remember. My guess is about 1935, '36.
M: That left Dr. Morrison and yourself in the original.
S: We stayed there inthat office and Dr. Tison moved on down the street.
M: Is this the office over Wise's Drug Store or was this an office that...?
S: Yes. They called it the Florida Theater Building at that time. This is
where Wise's is now on the ground floor. But the offices that we occupied
are vacant now, I think. From the street they look like they're boarded
up. The entire front of that second floor, there were about five operating
rooms and a laboratory and the reception room. It was across the front
half of the second floor.
M: Which way did Dr. Tison move, east or west of there?
S: He moved in the next block west of there. I don't remember what was on
the second floor of that building then, but more recently there was a
beauty parlor and there was an M.D., maybe a couple of M.D.s. It was kind
of a professional building in the next block almost across the street
from Ethe3 Seagle Building. I'm not sure that building is still there.
M: You mean the building where he was?
S: Yes, the building that he moved into.
M: Some of the doctors that were here at the time were Killvan, King,
Mixon, the few you mentioned, Hussy, Tench. Do you remember some of
those other doctors or dentists very well?
S: I remember all of them except Killvan.
M: This is now by mid-thirties.
S: Yes. Were there any M.D.s in those that you mentioned?
M: No, dentists.
S: No, I didn't think so. Dr. King was an M.D.
M: Was it a very close-knit circle? Did you all socialize together?
G: Yes, we socialized together but everybody socialized in those days. We
associated more professionally. We'd call a meeting every now and then
and get together. Those meetings were more social than they were pro-
fessional, in fact, in those days. Local dental meetings now are quite
professional rather than social, but Dr. Robertson, for instance, always
had a party once a year, a meeting at his house. It was a combination
party and meeting. We had very little business to transact. He's quite
a hunter and fisherman and he always served game. One of the best dinners
that we had, he prepared himself: deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbits,
doves, the works. Very few of them ever missed dinner at Dr. Robertson's
M: This would include the wives?
S: No. This was....
M: Just the men?
S: Yes, it was stag.
M: Was there any black sheep of that group, one doctor that sort of was off
on his own or didn't associate with the others?
S: No, I don't think so. I don't believe so. Not when I first came here.
They all got along very well. We respected each other's professional
manner and it was pretty hard for you to get a dentist to say anything
about another dentist. We respected each other's feelings a lot.
M: You mentioned the boards earlier and you talked about practical tests,
Was there a written test in the Florida board also?
S: Yes, there was a written test. That's been better than fifty years ago
that I took that board. I don't remember how many days we had written, but
I would say probably two days of written examination and then three days
of practical examination.
M: That would be all day?
S: The written part of the examination is given differently now. You can take
part of this while you're still in school, and then most of the state
board that they give now is the practical art, it's given all at one time.
They had it out here just a month or two ago at the university for the
first time in the history of the Florida board. But they have very
excellent facilities out there. Now the dentists that take the board
have assistants helping them and we did it on our own. We didn't have
M: The people you worked on, did you just bring somebody from the outside?
S: You could furnish your own patients but usually the supply houses would
advertise that there was free dental work available by graduate dentists
who would do the work. It wasn't students,I mean they'd emphasize this
and they'd get quite a few people to come there. But if you lived in
the town or had friends there, you could bring anybody you wanted to. You
could bring somebody along with you as a patient.
M: Did a dentist at that time have to do four years of bachelor's degree
and then three or four years of dental school?
S: It depended upon what school you went to. I was in the first four-year
course at Marquette, 1925. I think that's right. I think that before
it had been three years and when I went there it was four, when I grad-
uated in '25.
M: Do you mean four years beyond the bachelor's or that included it?
S: There was no bachelor's required. Four years beyond high school.
M: When you went in, you would automatically declare that you were going
for dentistry and you would start taking the courses immediately?
S: Definitely. You either went to the dental school or the medical school
or whatever college you went to. The dental school was well established
and had been for a long time.
M: Was it a competitive thing as to who got into the dental school, or if
you wanted to go into the dental school, you got into dental school?
S: I don't know. I can't answer that. I was on the other side. I presented
my credentials and credits and they accepted me and then it was up to me
to stay there. I got the information that if you turned in pretty good
grades and was a good student your freshman year, they didn't watch you
quite so close your second year, and if you had two good years, the last
two were easier.
M: Do you think that would've been true for most dental schools or do you
think Marquette would've been different?
S: I don't know anything about any other dental schools but I know that
Marquette was considered a good dental school in that section of the
country and that's the only section of the country I knew anything
about. Minnesota was considered an excellent school, University of
Michigan was considered a good school, and so was Marquette. The only
dental school in Wisconsin was at Marquette, in Milwaukee. There were
some other neighboring states. Their reputation wasn't so good. They
were state schools. One or two at that time. I don't care to mention
M: You mentioned looking at Dr. Tison's filling work and seeing that it was
very good work. What kind of work, other than fillings, would dentists
do in the late twenties and thirties? Was it common to clean your teeth?
S: Just about everything you do now except they're emphasizing more on how
to balance occlusion and rehabilitation, and preventive dentistry is em-
phasized more today than it was back in those days.
M: For instance, gum disease, was that important then?
S: Yes. It was generally known as pyorrhea at that time. That's a very
unpopular term among dentists. In fact, they don't use it. But there is
another one, harder to remember. This is now peridontal disease. We
had specialists in peridontia. Back in the thirties some dentists em-
phasized more on that particular work but they weren't usually designated
as peridontists or specialists. The only specialists that I can remember
then were the exondondists, or oral surgeons. Now we have endodondists.
They sepcialize in root canal treatment and so forth. I don't remember
any of those in Ethe3 thirties. Of course, there are a lot of things that
I don't remember.
M: Was orthodontal work much later?
S: Oh, orthodontists. I forgot, there were orthodontists, too.
M: There were as early as the thirties?
S: Yes, there were orthodontists back in the thirties. There were not very
many of them, but there were some.
M: Do you recall who did the orthodontal work?
S: Well, Dr. Morrison had a mixed practice. This is the one that I know, close
at hand. There were no other orthodontists in Gainesville. He came from
Atlanta. His brother was an orthodontist in Atlanta and he'd gotten
some experience, I think, with his brother, but also he'd taken post-
graduate courses. He did general practice and orthodontic practice.
He did not extract many teeth. One reason he didn't like to was be-
cause he didn't want to hurt any of his orthodontia patients.
M: You were saying that when he had extractions to do, many times you would
S: Yes, he didn't want to extract teeth, particularly on young patients
who were prospective orthodontia patients or were orthodontia patients
because he didn't want to lose an orthodontia patient because he might
hurt them pulling a tooth. So he'd refer them to somebody else. Dr.
Tison didn't particularly care about extracting teeth either. Since I
was in the office, I got a lot of tooth extraction experience from both
those men. They would refer them to me. My early practice was largely
cleaning teeth and extracting teeth. We didn't call it too much surgery
at that time but there was considerable surgery involved, particularly
on impacted third molars or any impacted tooth. I took several post-
graduate courses and tried to improve myself that way, but most of it
came from experience.
M: Was there any major surgery in which you had to go to the hospital?
S: Yes. Many times in fractured jaws you wire the jaws together, wire
the teeth together, and this acts as the definite splint. You hold
the jaws in place that way. But Dr. Morrison had been doing that before
I came to Gainesville and as near as I can remember, nobody else did
it. He continued to do that and it suited me, too. If I had a patient
that was in an accident who'd broken a jaw or gotten in a fight, [I
referred them to Dr. Morrison]. Saturday night celebrations produced
frequent jaw fractures. Dr. Morrison took care of most of that.
M: That would be done at the hospital?
S: In most instances not necessarily, but usually because that was about
the only place you could get a general anesthetic. You couldn't
always anesthetize it locally, not as well as you could with a general
M: They can use anesthetics right in the office now. Was this uncommon
at that time?
S: No, the oral surgeons, the specialists that were well established, did
this in their offices, but a general practitioner who did a lot of surgery
didn't. There was one lady, that had a portable nitrous oxide machine.
She would make appointments to come around to your office and administer
it in the office. That didn't work out too good because the patients
didn't have the preoperative supervision and treatment. It didn't work
out too well, They did have some of that. When a general anesthetic
was given, it was generally given at the hospital.
M: You mentioned before how much you were paid when you were sharing your
office with Dr. Tison. How much did you start charging? Do you recall
charges of a filling or a cleaning, something like that?
S: I could tell you exactly 'cause I still have my records, but guessing
at it, five dollars was a pretty good fee for extracting a tooth, an
ordinary extraction. I pulled a lot of teeth for free and some for two
dollars. But back in the thirties, this was Depression time, and there
wasn't a whole lot of restorative dental work done either. They waited
until they got a toothache. Then it was a little late and it was an
extraction and many times that was done on a barter basis. I've taken
hams and chickens and ducks and eggs and vegetables and rabbits. One
man said his wife needed a denture, but all he had was a mule. So I
tried to keep from laughing and went up to Dr. Morrison's office to tell
him. We were in the same office there and I said this fellow back here
says his wife needs a denture and he wants to pay for it with a mule. He
says that's all he's got. At that time I was living out in Melrose at
my summer place and commuting back and forth. Morrison was quite a joker
and he says, "Oh," he says, "that's fine." He says, "You can use that."
He says, "You can ride that mule back and forth to Melrose." He says,
"The pasture's out there, right there on your lake place; it won't cost
you anything to keep it." He says, "Look at all the money you'll save."
Anyway, I didn't make a deal with the man with the mule. But it gives you
an idea that in order to pay for very necessary dental work, sometimes
you accepted that sort of payment.
M: Did you ever have to take any, during the Depression, that could not
afford to give you anything at all?
S: I don't remember exactly. They might have a dollar or two. They were
pretty honest. I believe people were a little more honest in those days
than they are now. If a man come in and said that his child or children
had a toothache and they need some dental work and that all he had is ten
dollars, if you were convinced that he was sincere about it, you went ahead
and did it. I didn't do too much of that, but I did it some.
M: Were there practical jokes to new dentists like having them chase around
town for left-handed forceps?
S: That was standard. I mean that happened to about all of them. A new
girl would come in and everybody'd laugh about it, but it got to be kind
of stale after a while.
M: Was it from the new dentists or was it from the secretaries?
S: Oh no, the dentists would do it.
M: The dentist?
S: The secretaries didn't have that much authority to send another girl
around. The dentist sent them around for left-handed forceps or whatever.
M: Were there some home remedies for dentistry? Wrap your head in-something
or wear mustard seed or something? Was there something like that?
S: Yes. Turpentine was the standard toothache medicine. Put turpentine
on it. I never heard of it until I came to Gainesville.
M: Does it work?
S: They said it did. You have to take the patient's word for it and if they
had a toothache and if they put turpentine on it and it quit hurting, it
must have. A lot of this could be psychology and imagination, too, but it
wouldn't work now. It didn't work in my office but it worked for them.
But others, I don't recall. I'm sure there were some. I hadn't heard
of a stomach tooth till I came to Gainesville. I've heard of an eye
tooth, that's an upper cuspid. But a stomach tooth is a lower cuspid.
This is cracker expression, and there's some more. I've heard cuspids
called tushes. This is new.
M: How would you spell that?
S: I don't know but it sounds like you'd spell it t-u-s-h, that's a tush,
that's a cuspid. I wasn't born in this part of the country so some of
these things I'm still not too familiar with. Have you talked to Dr.
Robertson? It's a shame you didn't. Because he's from around here.
M: Who is this?
S: Dr. Robertson. The one that you mentioned before. He'd give you some
M: What about in terms of assistance? You mentioned that each dentist in
the office would pay his own assistants. Were they dental hygienists or
were they just assistants?
S: We didn't have any hygienists back in those days that I can recall. We
didn't have any in Gainesville in the early thirties when I first came
here. You're talking about a ten-year span there and I'm thinking about
the early thirties. I know for sure there were no dental hygienists in
Gainesville. I don't know when the dental hygienists started here.
M: So what kind of training would your assistants have?
S: What you gave them. I always preferred to have a green assistant, one
that hadn't worked for somebody else because I didn't want her to come
in here and have to unlearn what somebody else taught her. I've had some
excellent assistants. Many of my assistants have been with me for many
years. One, Inez Goodwyne, has a sister here in town. She's a sister-
in-law of the former registrar at the university.
S: No, Dick Johnson. She was with me fifteen years. The first time, a
stretch of nine years. Her mother lived in Tallahassee. She went there
and worked for a dentist for a few years and she came back to Gainesville
and worked for me five more years. At about that time, I was in the
naval reserve. I was in the Marine Corps in World War I and in 1928 I
joined the naval reserve. In World War II, I wasn't ordered to active
duty at the beginning of the war. It was October, '42 that I received
orders to active duty.
When I did, this lady was working for meand had decided she wanted
to be a nurse. She was planning to go to a nursing school in Jacksonville.
But this nursing school in Jacksonville, upon graduation, granted a re-
stricted license or diploma, credentials that would only qualify her to
practice in Florida, to be an RN in Florida. She was a very smart girl
but up in years, in her thirties by this time. She was short, very
studious. I said, "You ought to shoot for the best." I said, "You've
got the capabilities but you're making a sacrifice." It took two years
of training then with no pay. They didn't pay trainees anything and
they couldn't earn money either. So she said, "What would you suggest?"
I said, "I'm from the middle west, from Milwaukee, and Mayo Brothers is
the big deal up there, but, in the east is Johns Hopkins and Massachusett's
General." I said, "That's what I had in mind." I said, "There's some
prestige to graduating from a place like that." We had two sisters in
town here who had graduated from there. So she applied for Mayo and they
accepted her on probation. She was a little short. She wasn't quite
tall enough, but I said, "What difference does that make?" and she said,
"Well, if you're not tall enough to make the beds, you can't reach across
the beds and make the beds," and she was pushing the age limit, but it
was war time and they accepted her. She always liked surgery. She enjoyed
assisting me whenever I had any surgery to do. I'm calling extractions
surgery besides the other surgery we had. During her training she assisted
the Mayo brothers at one time. They would alternate in the operating
rooms and one day she happened to get on with one of the Mayo brothers.
She was handing him instruments and I had taught her in the office here
to slap an instrument in the dentist's hand. Don't just hand it to him
and turn it loose before he's got it and maybe it.drops on the floor,
and that's the only one you've got and you've got to spend fifteen, twenty
minutes to sterilize it and you're in the middle of an operation and you
don't have any extra. She handed him a few instruments and was slapping
them in his hand and he stopped operating and he said, "Where did you
learn that?" She said, "I used to work for a dentist." After she
graduated, they kept her there as a surgical nurse, but she was only a
surgical nurse for a few months, maybe six months. They made her surgical
nurse supervisor. She stayed there a long time, and before she left she
was in charge of several operating rooms. After leaving Mayo's, she went
to work for John L. Lewis's organization in West Virginia [The Lewis
people had heard about her and offered her a job]. She accepted, and
worked for several years, then came back to Gainesville and retired here.
About that time I needed an assistant that could help me on short notice.
She came back and helped me for about six months, just to help me out.
We were very good friends. She died in Gainesville a number of years
M: What would you pay an assistant?
S: Back in the 1930's?
M: Uh huh.
S: The dime store was at the bottom of the totem pole at that time and
I would start out an inexperienced assistant with the same pay as the
ten-cent store. Woolworth's was the principal ten-cent store at that
time. Whatever the pay was, it wasn't a whole lot, I think about
twenty dollars a week, maybe twenty-five. Then as she improved and
learned more about the job, I would increase the pay.
M: What kind of patient was Dr. John Tigert?
S: Very good but I wouldn't like to talk about any patient particularly or
individually. This is unethical to begin with but he's gone now. I
prefer not to comment on Dr. Tigert, but Dr. Tigert was excellent. I
had a high regard for him. He was an excellent patient.
M: Let's talk then about the equipment in your office. Did you have X-ray
equipment and what other kind of equipment would you have?
S: Yes, we had X-ray equipment but there were exposed wires on it and it was
very dangerous. This X-ray machine was in Dr. Tison's office when I got
there. He kept that thing for a couple years and then General Electric
came out with a wall model. This was quite an improvement. This was
very definitely an improvement, and they also made a portable machine,
same type as the wall model but it was a portable arrangement that you
could move around form one room to the other. I would say along about the
early thirties maybe, good X-ray equipment was available.
M: What about drilling equipment?
S: I started out with a foot engine but that wasn't in the thirties, we had
electric engines then. I would say maybe fifteen years, no more than
twenty, the high speed air rotor drill come along. That's what's being
used mostly now. The early ones had a very shrill, high pitch noise. I
have a hearing deficiency that was partly caused by noise trauma, and my
hearing is pretty well deteriorated. Some of this is from gun noise,
hunting and shooting and in the service. I was subjected to quite a
bit of gun fire in the Marine Corps and noise aboard ship in the navy
and also over at the air station. I was stationed at the Jacksonville
air station for a year, worked in wooden temporary buildings and the
planes kept flying over head constantly all day, made a lot of noise.
But the air rotor dental engine really finished it up. You were supposed
to use ear plugs to cut that noise out. They bothered me and I just
went ahead without them, and so part of my hearing went with it. But I
hear you very well. It's quiet in here and I'm facing you and part of
my hearing is lip-reading, too.
M: But what other equipment besides X-ray and a drill would you have? When
you would come into an office, such as when you moved into Dr. Tison's
office, did you have all your own equipment?
S: Oh, no. He had his own. He furnished all the equipment.
M: He furnished it for you, too?
S: Oh, yes. When you went to work for somebody in their office, he had
the equipment or he furnished it. I guess maybe if he didn't have it
and he had to set up an office for a new man, they would enter into
some other kind of a deal, but this is just my experience and this is the
way most of them operated it at that time.
M: What was it besides the X-ray and the drill?
S: Part of the equipment in the office was a chair. The early chairs were
pump chairs, you pumped them up like a barber shop chair today. Now
they're all electric. Sterilizers improved. We had water sterilizers in
those days, hot water, and now they're steamed autoclaves. X-ray machines
have improved, and developing X-ray machines. You can take an X-ray and
run it through an automatic developer and processing machine and get it
back in just a few minutes. That does away with the dark room. I
remember the old fashioned dark room. And a roll-away cabinet that held
the instruments. The chair is also now a contour chair where the patient
lies horizontally. However, I still use my standup, old-fashioned chair
and prefer to do my dentistry that way.
M: Did a dentist in the thirties have a lot of status in the community? Was
he looked upon as being very high?
S: I guess so. I mean, they were one of the boys. I compare that to the
totem pole. I think they were all up on the totem pole. The doctors,
M.D.s and other professional men, lawyers and so forth, I would say yes.
M: How much time would you spend on a cleaning?
S: EProphylaxis is a better word]. Depends upon the cleaning. How much
time would you spend cleaning a house?
M: It seems that dentists do a fairly rapid job these days. Would it be
that rapid or would you talk to the patient quite awhile?
S: Still as rapid for me whenever I do any cleaning. There are automatic
devices that help clean teeth and you can do it entirely with manual in-
struments, I mean instruments that you use yourself. The amount of time
depends upon the operator and the patient you're working on and the con-
dition of the mouth. That's too broad a question to put a time on. I
don't think they could do much of [a3 cleaning job in less than twenty
minutes for a minimum and probably an hour if you want to spend that much
time. Maybe at the end of an hour if it was a very badly kept mouth,
you'd have to see them back for a second appointment.
M: But would you talk to the patient quite a bit or would it just be straight
work at that time?
S: The dentist can do the talking, but the patient can't ever do much talking.
There are some loquacious dentists that like to hear themselves talk, some
that are very quiet. I've always enjoyed my work and carried on a certain
amount of conversation, but it's mostly a one-way conversation. That's
what you're accused of--get my mouth open and then you ask me questions and
don't let me answer and that sort of thing.
M: Is there anything else that you might like to add?
S: No. I don't know what you'd like.
M: One quick question then. Was there an ADA and did it have many effects on
S: Oh, yes. The ADA has been in existence as long as I can remember.
M: Did it really have any effect or was it just for professional meetings?
S: Yes, belonging to the ADA carried a certain amount of prestige Lbut there
are some good dentists that do not belong].
M: Did they have magazines, literary type...?
S: Yes, definitely. They have a good service. I'm a life member of the ADA.
That means you're sixty-five years old and have been a paying member for
thirty-five years. I mean, being a life member doesn't carry any more
prestige except you've been there a long time.