Foundation and Development
While the origin of Harvard's Warren Anatomical Museum clearly dates to the donation of the collection of teaching specimens of Dr. John Collins Warren in 1847, the formation of the Harvard Dental Museum is somewhat obscure. The Dental School itself was established by vote of the Harvard Corporation on July 17, 1867. Following the appointments of the first faculty members, lectures were delivered to the first class of students on November 4, 1868, in the North Grove Street building, the former home of the Harvard Medical School, adjoining Massachusetts General Hospital. The curriculum was both theoretical and practical, with courses in anatomy, surgery, and chemistry, as well as operative dentistry—"to demonstrate all known methods of performing operations upon the teeth"—and mechanical dentistry—"that combination of art with mechanism, which enables the practitioner to effect so much in restoring the symmetry of the face and usefulness of the teeth, where they have been lost or impaired by accident or disease."
The first annual Announcement of the School, outlining the course of instruction for the 1868-69 session, indicates a museum was in existence, or at least in prospect, at that early date. Each student, as one of the requirements for a degree, "must also deposit with the Dean, to be placed in the Museum of the college, a specimen of mechanical dentistry or of practical or pathological anatomy, prepared during his course of instruction." Unlike the Warren Museum, which was, at the start, its founder's personal collection and used for teaching students, the Dental Museum was originally intended to serve as a storehouse of instructional materials as these were produced from the course of study by the students themselves. The requirement for graduates to deposit a specimen in the Dental Museum remained in place for over thirty years, through the 1901-02 academic session.
The Museum might even be slightly older than this, as records indicate, in 1867, Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep, the first Dean, made a notable presentation to the Dental School—the dental casts made of George Parkman in 1846 and used in the murder trial of John White Webster several years later. These items were once housed in the Dental Museum.
Very little is known for certain of the early years of the Dental Museum and its activities until the 1890s. The first curator, Arthur Tracy Cabot (1852-1912), was appointed in 1879, and he also donated some 175 specimens, the nucleus of the Museum's pathological collection.
He was succeeded in 1881 by Charles Wilson (1842-1912) who was likewise responsible for many donations. Both Cabot and Wilson held positions as instructors in the Dental School, but their activities as curators are obscure.
It is only with the appointment of Waldo E. Boardman as curator, in 1891, and the formation of a Standing Committee on the Museum to provide oversight, that a more detailed picture of the Dental Museum, its operations, and its purpose, begins to form.