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Jonathan Taft
The Alumnus 126-128


From the minutes of the University Senate, Oct. 23, 1903

We are assembled formally to record a suitable expression of 
respect and esteem for our as
sociate, Dr. Jonathan Taft, the dean
 of the College of Dental Surgery for 
the past twenty-eight years, who died
 early Friday morning, Oct. 16, 1903.

Dr. Jonathan Taft was born Sept.
17, 1820, in Russelville, Brown
 County, Ohio. He was educated
 in the district schools and in a small
 academy in Brown County. His 
father was a native of Massachusetts, 
 and a farmer by occupation. An in
jury, which was not properly treated, 
resulted in permanently crippling
 young Taft, and he prepared himself 
to teach school. He taught success
fully for about four years.

In 1841 he took up the study of 
dentistry, and began its practice in
 1843. He continued in regular and
 successful practice until about two
 years ago, when he abandoned his 
practice in Cincinnati and moved to
 Ann Arbor. He was in continuous
 service for nearly sixty years, thus
 making a record seldom equaled in
 any profession. In 1850 he graduated
 from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery, and four years later he was
 called to the professorship of opera
tive dentistry in that school. He 
filled this chair honorably for twenty-
five years, resigning it in 1879, that 
he might give his time more fully to 
the work he had assumed in this
 University. While connected with 
the Ohio Dental College, he was for 
the larger part of the time its dean. 
 This was the second dental college 
organized in the world, and his work
 was largely of a pioneer character. 
 At that time there were no text-books
 on the subject, which he taught, and
 in 1859 he wrote the first work ex
clusively devoted to operative den
tistry ever published. This book was
 the standard work on this subject for 
more than twenty-five years.

In 1856 he became associated with
 Dr. George Watt, of Xenia, Ohio, in 
the publication of the Dental Register, 
 that for ten years had been edited
 and published by Dr. James Taylor, 
 of Cincinnati. This was again pio
neer work, as there were at that time 
only two other dental journals published, and these in the eastern
 states. He continued, in spite of
 many adverse conditions, the publica
tion of this journal up to 1900, with-
out the lapse of a single issue. The 
journal is still published and is now 
in its fifty-seventh year, making it the 
oldest dental journal in the world. 

At the time Dr. Taft was taking on 
these arduous duties his health was 
so precarious that his friends pre
dicted an early break-down; but his
 will-power seems to have predom
inated, and he not only took on more
 and more public professional work, 
but his private practice increased so
 rapidly that he soon had the largest 
and most lucrative practice in Cin
cinnati. This furnished him the
 means to engage in every movement
 of a national or local character calculated to promote the practice of his 

Dr. Taft, with a few other noble
men of those early days, conceived 
the idea of making his calling a 
profession, and he made heroic sac
rifices to accomplish this end, through
 his writings and assistance in organ
izing local and national dental con
ventions for the open discussion of
 the technical and scientific problems 
involved in dental practice, which in
 those days were considered "trade
 secrets." It is probably safe to say 
that he attended more meetings of 
dental societies, and traveled farther
 to do so than any other man. He 
valued this method of education
 highly, and willingly made great 
sacrifices to encourage it, not alone 
for his own sake, but that the profession might be liberalized and given 
that impetus which made its develop
ment phenomenal. Because of his 
interest in this movement he con
tributed largely to the proceedings of 
these conventions in papers and dis
cussions. He was a forcible speaker, 
 and took active part in all the great is-
sues, which have from time to time 
threatened the higher professional 
ideals and standards. His work as an 
educator became so generally and
 favorably known that when the Regents 
of this University decided to add a
 department of dentistry he was considered the most desirable man to be
en trusted with so important an under-
taking, and at their urgent call he 
decided to sacrifice pecuniary advan
tages in Cincinnati, and give a considerable portion of his time to the 
establishment of our dental depart
ment. His belief was that with the
 facilities of a great university, such 
as were here available in the scientific 
departments, a dental education was 
possible, broader in character than 
could be had at any other place in this
 country, and he was willing to make 
the personal sacrifice necessary to 
realize this much to be desired ideal. 
Against the best judgment of his
 friends he accepted the call, and came 
to Michigan in the fall of 1875, and 
began the development of the dental 
department of the University of
 Michigan on standards much above
 those which were then in force in
 other schools. This idea was con
stantly in his mind, and as other 
schools came up to the standards of 
this University, he advocated, and
 succeeded in securing, by the consent
 of the authorities, material advances
 in the breadth of its curriculum and 
length of time required for its degree, 
 until the last great advance, which 
gave the dental department of the
 University of Michigan the credit of 
establishing the highest standard of 
dental education known. 

Dr. Taft was a man of positive con
victions, but was willing to give way 
to others when it became necessary 
to secure harmony in administration. He had large plans for the develop
ment of the dental department, and 
he never became discouraged because 
he could not realize his hopes; but 
he took advantage of every opportu
nity to better, not only its standards, 
but its teaching facilities. Through 
his watchfulness the department is in 
possession of one of the best dental 
libraries in existence; and by his
 sympathy with the late Professor 
Corydon L. Ford, who took much in
terest in the dental department, a
 valuable odontological museum was
 secured. This museum has been 
recently augmented by gifts from Dr.
 William Mitchell, of London, Eng
land, so that it is now probably the 
best collection of its kind to be found
 in any dental school. The facilities 
for teaching the technical subjects
 have also been greatly augmented. 
 Just before his death Dr. Taft oc
cupied himself with plans for a new 
building. It was his ambition to see the department so fully equipped as
 to secure for its graduates the highest 
professional attainments. 

As a scientific worker he did not 
make such attainments as some other 
men in the profession, but he kept in 
touch with every technical and scien
tific advance, and by counsel and sym
pathy stimulated many men to carry 
forward researches for the advancement of these departments of the profession. He had many qualities, 
which fitted him for such work, but 
circumstances prevented him from 
engaging in it. 

In the death of Dr. Taft the University has lost one of its most distinguished instructors, beloved by all
 his students, and one of its most de
voted servants, who by his self-sac
rificing labors deserves to be held in 
grateful and lasting remembrance. In 
his death the Senate has lost a man
 who by his sterling and devout
 character, his kindly manner, and his
 wide sympathies has won from all of us 
profoundest respect, and from those
 who were most closely associated with 
him genuine affection.