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“Leading Faculty Member Retires ” by John E. Gilster, 1959

This biography of Ruth E. Martin was published in the May 1959 issue of the Washington University Dental Journal.  Martin (1896-1976) was a 1923 graduate of the Washington University School of Dentistry and a pioneer in the field of dentistry for children.  The author, John E. Gilster, was a member of the School’s class of 1944.

John E. Gilster, ’44

Ruth E. Martin
Ruth E. Martin

Once upon a time a little girl complained to her family that some children in the neighborhood were treating her too roughly.  An older sister fretted a lot about this, but an adult piously assured her by saying, “Don’t worry, the good Lord won’t let anything happen to your little sister.”  About that time, Ruth Martin, the older sister, spying some high-jinks outside, said, “Looks like God needs some help-right now,” and hurried out to defend little Merle.  Ruth Martin has never stood aside to let someone else “take care of it.”  When a cause needs to be advanced or defended, she is in front fighting as hard as she can.  Students may have thought at times that she was too tough on them, but they usually returned several years after graduation, if not before, to say that they had begun to understand why she insisted on certain principles.  She wanted students to learn to do things the correct way – not just the easy way.

Doctor Martin holds her own in a man’s world and yet has never lost her attractive feminine appearance or outlook.  In an interview for the Santa Barbara (California) newspaper, she was quoted as having said that dentistry lacked glamour.  Anyone who knows her would add that she herself has added glamour to our profession and continues to add prestige to it even in her retirement.

Late in January Chancellor Ethan Shepley announced her retirement as professor and head of the department of dental pediatrics here at the School of Dentistry.  After suffering a heart attack in May of 1956, she returned to her duties that fall; but, unfortunately, an attack of bursitis complicated her complete recovery, and she has been on leave of absence since January, 1957.  Her retirement became effective January 1, 1959.

Ruth Martin, a native of Harrisburg, Illinois, received her degree at the School of Dentistry, Washington University, in 1923.  After engaging in private practice for about two years and living briefly in Santa Barbara, California, she joined the faculty at her Alma Mater in 1927.  (She always said that she arrived with the cyclone, and it could be added that her energy has always matched it.)

She headed one of the earlier departments of dentistry for children in this country.  She served her Alma Mater admirably in this capacity, teaching and rising through the academic ranks to full professorship and head of the department.  And her department it shall always be, for she has been designated Professor Emeritus by the University – small enough a token of regard and gratitude that it may be.  The school will sorely miss one of its favorite faculty members.

Her many contributions to our profession made her one of the nation’s most revered and highly respected dentists.  She is an outstanding teacher of dentistry for children – one of the pioneers in this relatively young field.  To list just a few of the honors and achievements garnered by this wonderful gal: charter diplomate of the American Board of Pedodontics; charter member of the American Academy of Pedodontics; one of the first women to be admitted to the American College of Dentists; president of the American Association of Women Dentists; president of Gamma chapter of Omicron Kappa Upsilon; president of the Washington University Dental Alumni Association; national treasurer of the American Society of Dentistry for Children (and president of its Missouri unit); one of the “Women of Achievement” of St. Louis in 1947; and an always active and contributing member of the American Dental Association and its Missouri components, of the International Association for Dental Research and of the American Association of Dental Schools.  Doctor Martin also has been assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at the University’s School of Medicine for many years, dentist in the department of pediatrics at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and member of the consulting staffs of Barnes, Homer G. Phillips and City Hospitals.  Her social sorority is Pi Beta Phi.

Breakers from the blue Pacific foam and slide up the sandy beach.  Bearded palms line the shore as well as the streets of the Spanish-style city.  Bougainvillea, birds-of-paradise and geraniums bloom in great profusion.  Behind loom the blue mountains, sometimes capped with snow.  This heaven-on-earth is Santa Barbara, and there is where Ruth Martin is pursuing her hobbies (and here she should be counting her laurels, for they are many).  The address is 126 W. Calle Crespis, Santa Barbara, California.


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