Changing Hands

Adelbert Fernald

The Museum's fourth curator from 1922 until his retirement in 1936, Dr. Adelbert Fernald (1871-1958)

In November 1922, Dr. Adelbert Fernald (1872-1958), an 1896 graduate of the Harvard Dental School and an instructor in orthodontia, was appointed curator of the Museum, and proceeded to effect some sweeping changes. The Museum itself was moved to make space for the school's growing X-ray division and "upon this assignment, Dr. Fernald with great energy went to work to rehabilitate the old Museum. In this work, he has accomplished much. He has really built into our school a new Museum…. The old Museum contained about 3000 specimens, while the present Museum contains 4050 specimens, many of them rare and unusual. He has so interested the graduates in his work, that he has been able to collect from them several hundred dollars which he has spent for show cases and other necessities."

The opportunities—and the challenges—confronting Adelbert Fernald are clearly outlined in a 1925 letter he addressed to Leroy M. S. Miner, the new Dean of the Dental School:
The museum can, and should, be developed, so that every branch of the Dental profession will be shown from earliest times to the present, as we cannot get a new idea without some knowledge of the old, and this fact is recognized in modern education. I am greatly handicapped in making the museum educational, without any funds to work with. Hundreds of valuable specimens have been stored away for lack of space and show-cases. If I could have eight hundred to one thousand dollars a year for new equipment, I know I could make the Dental Museum a department of the school which Harvard University would be proud of.

Initially, at least, Fernald had Dean Miner's support in his efforts, stating, "I may say the Administrative Board were very appreciative of your active efforts in connection with the Museum and we all feel that it is going to be a very valuable part of our school, not only for teaching but as a record of the progress of dentistry." It was Fernald's plan to increase the educational value of the Museum to the Dental School by encouraging the instructors to deposit models of the students' work, marking a return to the Museum's original purpose. He appears to have met with some resistance and sought the Dean's backing in these efforts:
Every year there must be some interesting Prosthetic cases, either practical or specimen work done by the students. I have, in the Museum some beautiful specimen work done by the students years ago. Why can't I have some of this work that is done today, which ought to show some progress or at least different methods … Models, appliances, or photographs of these cases should be displayed in the Museum …. Every year as you know there are some very interesting Orthodontic cases. I have requested repeatedly to obtain those models and have a place for them, but without results…. I have been trying for years to obtain specimens from the different departments of the school and have written letters to the late Dean Smith for that purpose, but I did not get results then and do not get them now. I have always had the interest of every department of the school at heart.