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“Benefits of the Alumni Association” by O. W. Bedell, 1904

Orion Willis Bedell (1870-1946) was a 1892 graduate of the Dental Department of Washington University (Missouri Dental College).  He delivered this paper to the Alumni Association of the Missouri Dental College; it was printed in the Thirty-ninth Annual Announcement, 1904-1905, of the Washington University Dental Department (Missouri Dental College).


When a man marries a woman he does or should lavish upon her a wealth of affection, of attention and of interest.  She becomes a very important factor in all of his future living.  It is a source of pleasure and of joy for him to provide for her necessities and to give her such luxuries as his means will allow.  Her pleasure and advancement are his constant desire.  In sickness or in health he is ever guardian, helper and more than friend.  So also if a man buys or builds a home.  It becomes an object of intense interest to him.  He plans, devises and invents, that he may achieve something that will be an innovation in the way of convenience, of usefulness, of healthfulness or of beauty.  He devotes his time, his money, his energy and his talents to the end that this place shall be up to his ideal.  If he becomes the possessor of a fine horse he usually becomes imbued with the idea that this particular animal possesses many attributes and desirable qualities not belonging to any other.  He recites to his friends how his pet can trot in such and such time, and how much intelligence and good sense he displays as he goes about affording his owner service and pleasure.  Even if he own a dog he is ready to praise his good qualities (even though these may be only imaginative), and will resent most forcibly any abuse or suffering that may be inflicted upon him by others.

We might ask, why are these manifestations of affection, of attention and of interest?  I believe we can answer, approximately correct, because they belong to us.  The love of what is ours is a very potent factor in the affairs of our lives.  Our wife, our house, our horse or our dog explains, at least in part, why we have affection and the many other interests in the objects of our possession.

Now that we have possibly an increased or more highly refined idea of what possession implies, I may state that the Alumni Association is in every sense our own possession.  We have come into it with travail, with labor, with sacrifice, as well as with pleasure.  We have matriculated with the mother college, have studied the various branches of instruction in the institution, have passed our examinations and have received from it a certificate of our fitness in the form of our diplomas.  In the language of the lodge-room, we have escaped the black ball, have passed all the entrance requirements, have committed the ritual, have ridden the goat, and are now full and accepted members of this body.  This Alumni Association has been organized out of those who have qualified, and for the purpose of our mutual betterment and advancement, as well as to encourage and foster fraternalism and the so-called college spirit.

I am to consider the possible advantages of such an organization tonight.  And I wish to present it in a three-fold form, or, in other words, to point out briefly how it may be of benefit – first, to the college itself; second, to the members of the Association; and, third, to the undergraduates or the students who have not yet fulfilled all the requirements necessary to admit them into full membership with us, but who are gladly welcomed as associate members or guests.

To take up our first heading: The achievements and honors of the sons are more or less inevitably reflected upon the mother.  They afford her pleasure and joy and offer her an opportunity for congratulation that she ever gave being to such an individual.  So with this Association; if it can be the means of bringing about something in the way of producing a gifted speaker, a brilliant debater, a teacher or an inventor, or of developing some talent latent in any of its members, it cannot help but reflect credit upon the school from which they came.  If in the preparation of papers to be read and in the open discussion of them some member or members become broader in culture, more scientific in the preparation of matter for presentation before other societies; if they become more capable of forceful arguments when on their feet discussing propositions, they will naturally reflect credit upon the Alma Mater, and when they are spoken of as men from the Dental Department of Washington University the institution will be benefited by such recognition.

To the members: It has been the claim that the dental profession is the least learned, the least cultured, of all the professions.  This is no time nor place to discuss the truth or falsity of such a claim, or whether it has or has not any foundation in fact.  But if it be the case I wish to propose a theory as to the cause.  I believe it is due to a lack of incentive.  Take the medical doctor.  His cases as he sees them in practice are sufficient incentive to drive him to his library and make of him a reading, studying, thinking man.  Scarcely two successive patients present similar conditions.  Many totally differing diseases and a multiplicity of temperaments and idiosyncrasies give him plenty to do to keep pace with the rapidly advancing science, with the new therapeutic methods and means and to enable him to afford the best and most scientific service to those who entrust themselves to his care.

The lawyer is presented with so various and different problems in his practice that it keeps him working almost unceasingly along the lines of reading, study and thought, so that he becomes a broad-cultured man.

How is it with the dentist?  While he undoubtedly meets with many interesting and possibly difficult cases to handle, it must be acknowledged that his work is of monotonous sameness.  His patients as they present themselves do not show sufficient that is unusual or abnormal or startling to send him to his library to see what others may have said about them or to learn different or better methods of treatment.  When the dentist’s work for the day is finished he frequently says, and many times with much truth, that he is so physically tired that he does not want to do any reading or studying or work along the lines of original research.

If a man is given sufficient incentive he will not consider his fatigue or physical condition, but will begin at once to expend time, money and talent to accomplish the object of his desires.  Take, as example, the dentist who may desire political advancement, personal aggrandizement, and you will find that he never excuses himself on account of being tired.  His object has become an incentive to him that gives him energy and aggressiveness, which usually develop talent.

Now I believe this Association can be the means of supplying to many the necessary incentive to achievement to make them overcome their natural desires to only rest or seek entertainment, and they will begin the preparation of papers to which they have been assigned, or to look up along the lines of discussions they may be expected to enter into.  In the end they will find themselves broadened, more cultured and more nearly ideal professional men.  And along this line I should suggest that our work be not confined to the subject of dentistry alone, but that we should take up the collateral studies, even to touching history, art, science or literature.  I remember some time since occasion offered to attend a lecture on the subject of “The Empire of the Czar.”  While not at all interested in the Russian, and not anticipating anything of benefit to me, I went, and to this day the impression made by that lecture, given by a man of power, has remained with me, an inspiration and a subject for thought that will abide for a long time to come.

Another thing that may seem trifling, but one of considerable importance, is that of training our members to be speakers before bodies of scientific men.  They may be drilled here so as to make them feel at home while on their feet, and so they will not be so seriously affected by that most disagreeable sensation, stage fright.  Still another advantage is that of fellowship with one another, so that a proper professional spirit is developed.  And by watching over and aiding and communing with one another the members are more apt to remain ethically upright and professionally clean.

I remember some time since a prominent dentist saying to me that he thought we should be very professional with our patients, in that we should charge them good, large fees.  I have thought of this many times since and wondered if this gentleman considered that a high fee was synonymous with professionalism.  I do not know as this is a time or place to discuss such a subject, but I believe one of the things we may gain as a benefit from this association is to get a better idea of what constitutes professionalism as differentiated from commercialism.  I as well as the most of us believe that the laborer is worthy of his hire.  But I honestly believe we approach more nearly the ideal professional man, when considered in his highest sense, at the time we perform some operation that requires labor, skill and sacrifice, and do it as charity, without the thought that we will ever be compensated in a monetary way.

And finally, the members will be benefited in that they will be in a position to know better what is going on in the college.  Not long since one of our graduates met an instructor in one of the departments of the school and asked if he was still connected with the institution.  Now, while this instructor does not fill a very large place, it should be the duty of the alumnae to know who is imparting knowledge in their alma mater, and if any changes of any great importance are to be made they should have some voice in the matter, in that no man who is objectionable to this Association should ever be placed in any position of importance in the school.

The benefits to the students: I believe here the principal benefit will come simply by associating with us.  The undergraduate will be brought into more intimate contact with the instructors in the college, will see and hear them in different roles; will be able to meet with men who are out in practice and gain much by studying their methods and manners and by hearing them tell of their successes and failures.  They will also have an early opportunity to become acquainted with dental society work and methods.  By being called upon to give their ideas of questions and to discuss propositions they will be made to appreciate more fully the labors of their instructors in trying to teach them that which is useful and elevating in the field of dentistry.

And finally, by all of us laboring and associating together, I, am sure it will foster, encourage and cause to grow that much desired college spirit – the spirit that will bind us more firmly together; will make us look back with pleasure to the days spent within the college walls, and that will make us look upon a fellow graduate as a fraternal brother, and that we will all, with one accord, say, God bless the old Dental Department of Washington University!  Long may she survive and prosper!


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