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The Dental Department And Its New Dean

Nelville Soule Hoff
The Michigan Alumnus 22-24


By Louis P. HALL, '79-'80. DD.S. '89.

The College of Dental Surgery is 
the youngest of all the Departments
 of the University. It was established 
in 1876 by a special appropriation 
made by the Legislature in response
 to an urgent request by the dental pro
fession of the state. It has steadily developed in student attendance, teach
ing force and facilities until it now 
ranks with the best university schools 
of the world. Its standards from the
 very first have been the highest the 
profession would sustain. The De
partment was fortunate indeed in se
curing a man of high professional 
ideals and an extended career as a
 professional educator in Dr. Jonathan
 Taft as its first Dean. Dr. Taft had
 a large and lucrative practice in Cin
cinnati, where he had for many years 
been the Dean of the second dental
 college organized for strictly dental
 teaching in the world. He came to 
Michigan University at great pecu
niary sacrifice solely because he saw 
here an opportunity to establish on an 
ideal professional and educational basis 
a school with all the facilities and tra
ditions of a great University back of 
it. Practically all of the dental schools 
at that time were conducted on a com
mercial basis. The foundations so
 carefully laid at that time have been
 carefully built upon, and these ideals
 have been so consistently cherished 
that the department has today a most
 enviable reputation in all parts of the 

The subject of this sketch, Dr. Nel
ville S. Hoff, has been connected with
 the constructive work of this Depart
ment actively for more than twenty 
years, and sympathetically from the 
very beginning. He was a student in
 the office of Dr. Taft at the time when 
the school's organization was being agi
tated, and he graduated from the Ohio
 Dental College, of which Dr. Taft was
 then Dean, the year the Dental Department of the University was organized. In fact, Dr. Taft strongly urged Dr. 
Hoff to come to Ann Arbor and take 
a position as demonstrator during the
 early years of the department's exis
tence. The temptation was great, but
 Dr. Hoff had started a practice in
 Cincinnati and also held an instructor
ship in the college there, which he
 could not believe it was wise to give up 
for the glory of teaching alone, as the
 salary offered was very small indeed. 

Because of Dr. Hoff's intimate rela
tions and long friendship of nearly thir
ty years with Dr. Taft, he thoroughly 
knew and sympathized with Dr. Taft's
 ideals and has done all in his power 
to make them practical. In the fall of
 1887 the call again came to Dr. Hoff 
to leave his practice and come to Ann 
Arbor and devote himself to teaching; 
 and it came in such a way and so 
strongly that he was made to feel that 
he could never hope to spend his life
 more usefully than in the pedagogic 
field. In January 1888, he came to the
 University as Assistant Professor of 
Practical Dentistry and was made Sec
retary of the Dental Faculty for the 
following year. His work was for 
many years that of developing and 
putting into practice courses of in
struction on the various newer subjects 
of the curriculum; such as a course in 
crown and bridge work, which at that 
time was not taught as a special course 
in any dental college, but which today 
is one of the important chairs in every
 dental faculty. He then developed a
 course in dental therapeutics, which
 was generally taught by medical prac
titioners who had no adequate knowl
edge or conception of what was involv
ed in the practical use of dental rem
edies. At this time there was no 
dental textbook to base a course upon. 
 Now we have many such books and 
every dental college has a chair teach
ing the subject. The course in Prosthetic and Operative Technics was 
then being put on a scientific basis, 
 and Dr. Hoff contributed much time 
and thought with other men in the 
Institute of Dental Pedagogics, to develop this feature of the curriculum. 
 It has become at present a most important part of the dental curriculum. 
 Other important courses received his 
best energies and helpful interest in 
bringing out a more orderly and sys
tematic course of technical and clinical 
instruction. In order that the scientific
 instruction which was given entirely 
by instructors in the medical and chem
ical departments might be made more 
interesting and serviceable to dental 
students, Dr. Hoff attended all the lec
tures taken by dental students, that he 
might have personal knowledge and so 
be able to intelligently advise with 
these instructors as to where special
 emphasis was needed to enlist the in
terest and to more thoroughly prepare 
the dental student for his practice
 work. By such work he has necessari
ly identified himself with the practical 
conduct of the school; and because of 
his interest he has not only given large
ly of his time and thought to the work 
of the department, but he has traveled
 extensively over the country visiting 
other schools; and by many contribu
tions to the subject of dental education
 he has acquired a grasp of the dental
 educational system of the country that
 few men would make the sacrifice nec
essary to obtain. 

When the Board of Regents secured 
the means to erect a new building for 
the Dental Department they did not
 have to wait for a plan for the build
ing as the plans of the present build
ing, which is conceded to be one of the 
best buildings ever constructed for the
 purpose, were ready for the architects 
to put at once into form for construc
tion. This building is the result of
 many ideas and suggestions secured 
from many sources and combined and
 adapted to the needs of our location by 
one who had also had a training and
 disposition for orderly equipment and 
service, a practical knowledge of pres
ent needs, and a clear vision of future

One of the greatest services Dr.
 Hoff ever rendered the department, 
 was his persistent and determined en
deavor to secure Professor W. D. Mil
ler, the greatest dental scientist the
 profession ever had, for dean of the
 department after the death of Dr. Taft. 
 Had Dr. Miller lived he would un
doubtedly not only have maintained 
the traditions of the department, but 
he would have utilized our splendid 
building with its fine equipment for 
higher scientific attainments, and
 would have brought much honor to the
 University. The death of Dr. Miller 
before he had begun his work was 
a sad blow to the department and the 

After the death of Dr. Miller, Dr.
 Hoff was made Acting Dean of the
 department, which position he held for
 three years, with the hope that some
 one capable of taking up the work ex
pected of Dr. Miller might be found
 who could be induced to assume charge
 of the school. 

An extensive and exhaustive search 
reveals the fact that there is no other
 "Miller" available, and the faculty has
 decided that it must develop its own
 scientist. With the excellent facilities
 we now have and substantial support 
of the University authorities we be
lieve the scientific department of our 
curriculum can be developed most suc
cessfully by training the younger men
 of the faculty in methods of research. 

Dr. Hoff has been made Dean, and
 will relinquish private practice that he
 may devote his entire time to the man
agement of the executive affairs and to
 the constructive work involved in the 
policy of the scientific development of 
the department. He has the peculiar 
executive force and training that
 should assure success; his devotion to 
the cause and his willingness to make 
the personal sacrifice required should 
promise a future development in standards and attainments such as shall jus
tify the hopes of the founders and all 
loyal supporters of the department. 

Dr. Hoff was born July 2oth, 1854, 
in Elizabeth, West Virginia. He was
 educated in the public schools of Pom
eroy, Ohio, studied dentistry in the 
Ohio College of Dental Surgery in 
Cincinnati and graduated there in
 1876, where he was demonstrator of 
Clinical Dentistry and Professor of
 Prosthetic Dentistry. He came to the 
University in January 1888, as As
sistant Professor of Practical Dentist
ry, and was made Professor of Dental
 Materia Medica and Dental Mechanics
 in 1891. In June 1903, his title was
 changed to Professor of Prosthetic
 Dentistry. He was made Acting Dean 
in 1907, and permanent Dean in June 1911. He is a member of all the na
tional and several local, district, and
 state societies. Since 1900 he has been
 the editor of the Dental Register, the
 oldest dental journal published.