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Dr Chapin Aaron Harris

  • Birth 6 May 1806 Pompey, Onondaga County, New York, USA
  • Death 29 Sep 1860 Baltimore, Baltimore City, Maryland, USA
  • Burial Baltimore, Baltimore City, Maryland, USA
  • Plot B,072
  • Memorial ID 34427681

A co-founder along with Dr. Horace H. Hayden of the first dental school in the world, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, which opened in 1840.

The following text about Dr. Harris' life is taken from the history of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, Dental School, University of Maryland (as it is now known). The book was written by the late John M. Hyson, Jr., DDS, MS, MA in 2006 and is entitled Baltimore's Own: The World's First Dental School 1840-2006.

Chapin Aaron Harris was born in Pompey, Onondaga County, NY, on May 6, 1806, of English ancestors. His granduncle, Captain Joshua Harris, fought at Bunker Hill, and his grandfather, James Harris, was killed in battle during the war. His father, John Harris, born in 1773, married, and immigrated to America.

The family moved to Madison, Ohio, when Harris was about 17. He began studying medicine with his elder brother, John Harris, 27 in about 1824. After completing his course of study, he was licensed by the Ohio Medical Board of Censors to practice medicine and surgery. However, he was intrigued by dentistry and began practicing dentistry in Greenfield, Ohio, in 1828. A year later, he moved to Bloomfield, Ohio, where he practiced dentistry, medicine, and surgery for two or three years. He then began touring the South and Southwest as an itinerant, where he built up an excellent reputation. Bored with life on the road, he next established himself in Fredericksburg, Va., where he practiced dentistry exclusively, but continued his medical studies.

In the early 1830s, Harris and his brother James came to Baltimore to study under Dr. Hayden. In 1833, both Chapin and James were licensed by the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty to practice dentistry in Maryland. Harris was referred to as a "pupil of Dr. H. H. Hayden." Harris continued his southern itinerant circuit until the founding of the college. He devoted a large portion of his time to dental and medical literature, and attended the Washington Medical College of Baltimore for an indeterminate time and date. Although it has been said that Harris received his MD degree from the college, the records of the period do not support that statement. He is listed as an undergraduate student at the college in 1838. The list of former graduates published that year does not include his name, either as a graduate or the recipient of an honorary MD degree. However, in 1839 in the preface of his book, The Dental Art, he signed his name with the title MD. He also used the MD title in an 1840 article published in the Maryland Medical and Surgical Journal. In 1833, the degree was also appended to his name on his license issued by the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland. It can be concluded that when Harris was licensed to practice medicine in Ohio, he "assumed the MD degree and continued to use it." His honorary MA degree was awarded by the Shurtleff College of Alton, Ill. His DDS degree came from his membership in the American Society of Dental Surgeons. Reportedly, he received an honorary DDS degree in 1854 from the Philadelphia Dental College.

Seeking a more permanent character for his work, in 1839 he published his first book, The Dental Art: A Practical Treatise on Dental Surgery, which was 385 pages. A second edition was published in 1845 under the title, Principles and Practice of Dental Surgery, containing 600 pages. Later editions were issued in 1847, 1850, 1852, 1855, 1858, 1863, 1866, 1871, 1885, 1889, and 1898. It was the most popular dental book ever published. His next book, Dictionary of Dental Science, a Dictionary of Dental Science, Biography, Bibliography, and Medical Terminology, was published in 1849; other editions followed in 1854, 1877, 1891, and 1898.

Dr. Harris was an "untiring worker," described as a big man: 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 208 pounds, who would work hard all day and then work on his book at night until one or two o'clock in the morning. Dr. Harris was largely responsible for the establishment of the world's first dental journal, the American Journal of Dental Science, published in Baltimore in 1839, under the direction of a committee consisting of Eleazar Parmly, Solymon Brown, and Elisha Baker, with Chapin A. Harris and Eleazar Parmly as co-editors. In October 1839, the Maryland Medical and Surgical Journal published an article supporting its sister journal, the American Journal of Dental Science:

The above is the title of a new periodical devoted particularly to the interests of our Brethren of the File and Forceps. It has reached its third number; one of which has not in the least disappointed the high expectations created by its predecessors. We look upon this undertaking as fraught with interest, and pregnant with good to the community at large, and more particularly to the members of the profession.

We commend it to the favorable attention of the medical community, and ask for it an extended patronage. We do this more cheerfully because of the intimate connexion [sic) which exists in reality between this branch of our profession, and those to the interests of which we are more immediately devoted. We trust the time has come when dental surgeons will bestir themselves in meeting the obligations of the whole community which are upon them, and not confine themselves to the building up of personal reputation and individual fortune. They have the time and the talent, and should freely lend the one, and bestow the other, in the most unwearied efforts to drive every quack from their field."

The journal also called to the attention of its readers the fact that there was an "immediate effort" either to establish schools of dental surgery or attach chairs of dental surgery to the medical schools already in existence. It called for the members of "these kindred professions" to "see eye to eye, and unite diligently" in the efforts to raise the standards of both professions.

The American Journal of Dental Science published the works of John Hunter, Gariot J. Nasmyth, T. Berdmore, Leonard Koecker, Baume, Jobson, J. White, S. Brown, R. Blake, Blandin, and T. E. Bond. Harris translated for the American Journal of Dental Science, the French works of Delabarre, Lefoulon, Duval, Desirabode, and Jourdain. By the fourth issue, the circulation reached 174 subscribers. In 1840, the journal was taken over by the American Society of Dental Surgeons as its official organ, and the journal was issued quarterly instead of monthly. Its title was changed to the American Journal and Library of Dental Science and the price of a subscription was increased from $3.00 to $5.00. For the next 10 years, Dr. Harris remained continuously as its chief editor until 1850, when he took it over as a "personal enterprise," until his death.

Dr. Harris was one of the founders of the American Society of Dental Surgeons, the first national dental society, and had made the motion "that a national society of dentists be formed." He was chairman of the constitution committee, the first corresponding secretary, and the president in 1844. Harris was also the editor of the Guardian of Health, a publication that first appeared in 1841.

Upon the death of Dr. Hayden in 1844, Harris was elected the president of the Baltimore College. From 1856 to 1857, Dr. Harris served as the second president of the American Dental Convention, which was the successor to the American Society of Dental Surgeons after it folded in 1855. Dr. Harris' library was one of the finest in Baltimore. He corresponded with foreign authors and publishers and had standing orders for purchasing anything on dentistry at his own expense. Dr. Harris was an avid reader and chess player. His favorite authors were Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Napier, Rollin, Motley, Macaulay, and Strickland. In 1838, he was elected a director of the Maryland Academy of Fine Arts. He loved children and animals, especially dogs and horses. He brought up and educated nine children in addition to nine of his own. Dr. Harris was married to Lucinda Heath*** of Loudoun County, VA. He died on September 29, 1860, and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Baltimore. Unfortunately, Harris, "liberal in life to an extreme," died in poverty. In October 1860, 50 prominent dentists started a fund for the relief of his family. Although more than one thousand dollars was collected, after expenses only $85 was sent to his widow. Dr. Eleazar Parmly said: "He has labored more arduously as a practitioner, more untiring as a writer, and more devotedly as a teacher of the principles and practice of dental surgery than any person who has in any way or in any country been connected with our professional art."

*** I have received one correction to Dr. Hyson's research - "Dr Harris did not marry Lucinda Heath he married Lucinda Hawley daughter of Barton D Hawley & Catherine Heath. Lucinda Hawley was the grand daughter of Andrew Heath & Hannah Smalley from Loudoun Co however I believe they came from New Jersey abt 1775 as I have a deed for his first land purchase in Loudoun."

Family Members

Gravesite Details Burial Date: 09/29/1860, Permit # 3531