Faculty & Alumni
“Lischer: A Teacher ” by E. S. Khalifah, 1945
LISCHER: A TEACHER
When future historians write the epic of dentistry and the story of the humble great is narrated, the record of Benno Edward Lischer – author, orthodontist, educator and scientific investigator – should be interesting as well as informative. His is the story of a well-educated and cultured gentleman whose contributions to orthodontics helped materially to elevate it from a remedial art to a science, and whose achievements in the field of dental education are manifest in the growth and development of Washington University School of Dentistry into a center of higher learning, based on principles of education and ideals and objectives of health service.
In writing this biography the chief handicap has been the position I hold on the faculty of which he is dean. Certain details of this narrative were furnished me, some were inaccessible, while still others were gathered from varied sources. Be that as it may, I shall stick to the facts at my disposal.
Dean Lischer was born June 27, 1876, at Mascoutah, Illinois. He was the seventh in a family of nine children, seven boys and two girls. His father’s ancestry is German, and his mother’s is French. Dentistry attracted him at an early age when, as a youth he sought dental service at a country dental office. The atmosphere was cheerful, the dentist was friendly and sympathetic and, unknowingly, the stage was set for a favorable impression. Because of this appeal the decision to study dentistry had an early start.
He was educated at the grammar and high schools of Mascoutah, and eventually at Washington University where he studied dentistry, receiving the D.M.D. degree in April 1900.
Among the hundreds of men who enter the profession of dentistry every year there are always a few who elect to specialize in certain phases of practice. Lischer’s interest in orthodontics was aroused during his student days by the progress in the treatment of dental anomalies. Up to that time orthodontics was a step-child in the dental household. It was taught entirely by lectures to senior students only. During the senior year of 1899-1900, Dr. E. A. Matteson, of Chicago, assigned a patient to each member of the class, in addition to giving the course of lectures. By the end of that school year many patients had been started but were not completed. After his classmates had left for their respective homes and places selected for the practice of dentistry, it was Lischer’s good fortune to be appointed instructor in clinical dentistry. These orthodontic patients were assigned to him to carry their treatments to completion.
Appreciating his lack of knowledge and the difficulties confronting him, and stimulated by a few successes, he sought further study, only to find that there was no door that led to greater educational opportunities; graduate work in orthodontics had not yet found its way into dental education. He had to work out his own salvation; and he did. He continued to teach at his alma mater from June, 1900, to June, 1924. In addition to teaching the subjects of dental anatomy and pre-clinical operative dentistry, and embarking in private practice (1902), he gave increasing consideration to orthodontics and its many problems; and finally, in 1906, he limited his practice to orthodontics, and sailed on and on to fame and immortality in his chosen specialty, notwithstanding the fact that two of the leading orthodontists of America (Angle and Lukens) were located in St. Louis at the time. During the autumn of 1924, he was appointed non-resident lecturer on orthodontics at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), and continued in that position until the summer of 1929, when he was appointed full-time professor of orthodontics at the University of California (San Francisco). At this time he discontinued private practice and assumed his new duties in January, 1930, devoting his full efforts to undergraduate, and graduate dental education.
Invited by Washington University in February, 1933, to assume the deanship of the dental school, he sacrificed the California position and returned to his alma mater as full-time dean and professor of orthodontics, in which capacity he still serves.
Aside from private practice, Dean Lischer’s main interests in his professional life have always been the development of orthodontics and dental education. He is a prolific writer, particularly on the subject of dental anomalies. As early as 1902 when the American Society of Orthodontists met in Philadelphia, his interest was aroused by Edward C. Kirk’s paper “A Comparative Study of Mandibular Protrusion.” “Mandibular protrusion” was substituted for the commonly and promiscuously used term “malocclusion.” Even Angle then confessed the inadequacy of intra-oral methods of diagnosis. This confession started Lischer’s critical attitude towards the status of orthodontic methods of diagnosis. This was the beginning of a long and serious study of the subject. In 1911, he published his new classification which was more descriptive and provided a scientific terminology. He coined the new terms neutroclusion, distoclusion and mesioclusion; and micro- and macro-mandibular, micro- and macro-maxillary deformities. A year later he published his book “Principles and Methods of Orthodontics.”
In Chapter VII of his “Principles and Methods of Orthodontics” (1912), he presented the prognosis of dental anomalies. This was the first mention of the subject in orthodontic literature. Subsequently, he coined the words eugnathic and dysgnathic anomalies, which provide a useful clinical classification for prognoses.
Incidentally, the word “Orthodontics,” coined by the well-known English etymologist, Sir James Murray, which is more correct than the word “Orthodontia,” was championed by Lischer for adoption. It stirred discussion and opposition from his colleagues, just as his new classification did. This controversy came to a head at a meeting in Toronto in 1914. He stood by his guns; he knew he was correct, therefore, he would not accept any modification. It was adopted. This action, so typical of Lischer, has repeated itself on many occasions in his career.
In 1908 he rose to the presidency of the St. Louis Dental Society which he joined in 1901. The year 1913 witnessed his elevation to the presidency of the American Society of Orthodontists, in recognition of his efforts, scientific investigations and contributions, in addition to other good qualities. In just seven years this budding specialist rose to the presidency of the national orthodontic organization. Beginning with Volume VIII – 1914 – and all subsequent volumes – Who’s Who In America included a biographical sketch of Dr. Benno Edward Lischer.
Dean Lischer’s yearning for science and things scientific, led him to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science when this great body convened at St. Louis in 1903. A large number of internationally known and brilliant scientists were on the program and he wanted to hear all of them. It will be recalled that at this early date there was no Dental Section and very few dentists were members of this large body of scientists. Nevertheless, he became a member and has retained and cherished this membership ever since. In 1932 he was elected a Fellow, an honor well bestowed. The knowledge gained from this “post-graduate” course aroused his interest in anthropology, particularly in the field of anthropometry. Possessing this basic background and impressed by the scientific approach of Simon’s “Fundamental Principles of the Diagnosis of Dental Anomalies” (published in German, in 1922), he was motivated to undertake an English translation, which was published in 1925-1926.
In 1926 the First International Orthodontic Congress was held in New York City. Dean Lischer was surprised to learn that he was elected Honorary President. Also in 1926, at Philadelphia, the Seventh International Dental Congress convened; Dr. Lischer was chairman of the section on Orthodontics. To these two meetings Dr. Simon came from Germany as Lischer’s guest, and he brought with him a doctoral dissertation on “The Norm-concept in Orthodontics,” which was also translated by Lischer into English and was published as an appendix to the book.
His interest in dental education dates back to the time of graduation. During the years 1907-1910 he served as secretary-treasurer of the American Institute of Dental Pedagogics, which was the forerunner of the American Association of Dental Schools.
Equally interesting are his avocations. His library, which is quite a large one, contains many volumes of the sciences, philosophy, poetry and the arts. His interest in the moral values of human experiences led him, even during his student days, to join the Ethical Society of St. Louis, and through these many years he has tried to formulate, to his own satisfaction, a philosophy of life based upon a scientific understanding of life’s problems and ideals. For recreation, after trying golf and travel, he has finally chosen gardening, and has come to agree with Emerson’s statement: “Give me the soil and a spade and I shall make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.”
DEAN LISCHER’S ADMINISTRATION
Upon assuming the deanship of Washington University School of Dentistry in the summer of 1933, he gradually applied his knowledge and experience to the improvement and development of this institution. This is neither the time nor the place to evaluate the growth and evolution of this school, but suffice it to say that it was accorded the approval of the Council on Dental Education after a thorough examination of all the dental schools of the country.
Previous to 1933, the pre-dental course was given in the dental school; it was now transferred to the College of Liberal Arts, where it really belongs. Extra-curricular courses (so-called “post-graduate”) which had no academic standing were abolished.
The establishment of the Division of Dental Medicine was an important and forward step in dental education. Its aims and function mainly include the correlation of the medical aspects of dentistry and the dental aspects of general medicine, hence the name Dental Medicine. The underlying basic motive implied that dentistry cannot be taught and practiced independently of the rest of the body of which the oral cavity is only a part. Mechanical skill, although very essential in dentistry, is by no means the most important phase of dental education, as heretofore thought and practiced. Therefore, a modification of the old concept of dental education was imperative.
A new system of records was introduced into clinical dental education, whereby registration of all patients became obligatory. Case histories, patterned after medicine, became a reality, thus facilitating methods of diagnosis and treatment. Bland N. Pippin, who has always been a great advocate of this type of dental teaching and practice, was appointed the head of the Division, and Director of Dental Clinics. Cooperation with the clinics of the School of Medicine was realized. Medical charts of patients are now available for study and investigation of the systemic background of mutual patients. This new service demanded alterations in the physical equipment of the school; a prosthetic laboratory was altered into three Examination and Diagnosis rooms; enlargement of the facilities of clinical radiography, and the installation of clinical photography. To this new course of lectures and clinic practice in dental medicine, a course in the principles of medicine was added, and both are supplemented by hospital rounds to give the prospective dentist the fundamental knowledge required for rendering health service.
The Division of Dental Pediatrics was created to include a special course of lectures on dentistry for children, in addition to clinical dental pediatrics. The clinical facilities for this division required the alteration of space previously occupied by a laboratory.
The Division of Dental Prosthetics was reorganized to provide a clinic laboratory, and offices and laboratories for the staff. The school was without a publication at the time to maintain contact and relationship between alumni and their alma mater. This was a regrettable condition, in view of the history and achievements of the school and its alumni. Therefore, the Washington University Dental Journal was founded in 1934, and although its possibilities have not been exhausted, it is now in its eleventh year.
The course in metallurgy was enlarged to include all dental materials. A course in Nutrition and Diet was lacking in spite of the importance of this subject in health and disease. A member of the Faculty of Medicine was invited to present this course. Dental History, Dental Orientation, Dental Ethics and Office Practice, Public Health Dentistry, and other adjunct courses were introduced and now have a permanent place in the curriculum. The Divisions of Physiology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Dental Orthopedics, and the Department of Radiography were reorganized to meet new requirements in dental education. The library was enlarged and remodeled in accordance with the needs of a growing dental school, so that its resources and conveniences may serve the faculty and students better and fuller. In cooperation with the Dental Alumni Association, the Wolzendorf Museum, which has many and great teaching possibilities, was organized. The growth of this museum has been tremendous and demands more consideration in the near future.
Enumerating these changes and additions does not portray the full meaning of the accomplishments of Lischer’s administration. We must not forget that he began his assignment at a time when our country was in the very depth of a severe business depression. Everybody’s finances, including the School’s and the University’s, were at a low ebb, and dental student enrollment throughout our fair land had declined 45% for over a decade. Confronted with this enormous difficulty he had to curtail certain projects and eliminate others. But he did this, we are happy to note, without sacrificing essential principles of professional education. His path has not been an easy one, but it has ever been onward and upward; he blazed a trail of integrity and self-sacrifice, so that dental education may proceed on a higher level of attainment.
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