Pullin’ teeth in Bellingham’s early days was no picnic
|Bellingham’s Painless Parker staff poses at the Commercial Street entrance to the upstairs dental parlor, c. 1918. Julia Scarseth stands at the center, wearing an assistant’s cap.|
Most people would find the idea of “painless dentistry” to be an oxymoron, yet Bellingham’s first dentists promised just that.
As early as 1889, Whatcom dentist O.C. Hiatt, in the Malloy Building on C Street, was “prepared to take out by the roots offensive teeth with little pain.” If Dr. Hiatt promised little pain, his rival in Whatcom, dentist William Werden, was soon offering absolutely “painless extraction of teeth” by graciously allowing patients a choice of “Nitrous Oxide gas, Ether or Chloroform.”
At that time a person rarely went to a dentist unless a toothache had finally become unbearable, with the visit commonly resulting in the loss of one or more teeth. For those on a tight budget, a barber or bartender could inflict the same remedy. Fairhaven barber Richard Sharpless defiantly advertised in 1891 that “Chloroform, or no chloroform, I am still doing business at the old stand, corner of 12th and McKenzie.”
|The well-groomed Dr. W.W. Danel, seen here in 1890, had a dentist’s office with the Sehome address of “opposite R. I. Morse’s Hardware Store.”|
In January 1890, William W. Danel started a small dental office in Sehome over the Globe Clothing House. Danel had his “own painless method for extracting teeth” that, in his words, was “simply marvelous.” He soon established a much larger and luxurious parlor in the Quackenbush Block on the NW corner of Dock and Holly streets. Danel’s ads in 1890 crowed that “Dr. W.W. Danel always has been and always will be the leading dentist on the Bay.”
Despite Danel’s vaunt, it was Charles A. Darling who was most prominent of Bellingham’s early dentists. Dr. Darling arrived in Fairhaven in 1890 with the ink barely dry on his diploma from the Philadelphia Dental College. He quickly found a clientele and high social standing among the well-moneyed speculators of the bay’s boom days. Darling moved to New Whatcom in 1892, opening his splendid new parlor in the Quackenbush Block on New Year’s Day!
Darling was elected president of the Washington State Dental Association (WSDA) in 1897. The following year he was appointed to the State Board of Dental Examiners. During his third term as association president, Darling invited the 19th Annual Convention of the WSDA to Bellingham, May 24-26, 1906. The event at the Baker Hotel on Forest Street attracted what The Bellingham Herald called “a large attendance of tooth-pullers.”
During the convention, workshops were given on the use of rubber teeth, matrices, pluggers, anchoring devices (for loose teeth) and “Smith’s contouring pliers.” Papers were presented on such diverse subjects as “The Evolution of the Retainer,” “Adenoids,” “Causes of Malocclusion” and “In Defense of the Open Face Crown.” A Tacoma dentist’s paper on oral hygiene was incorrectly publicized in the Herald as being about “moral hygiene.” The misprint revealed how novel the dissertation’s actual topic was.
|Charles A. Darling, Bellingham dentist and president of the WSDA, who gave up the profession to go to sea.|
Darling continued in dentistry until World War I, when he joined the U.S. Navy. Having earned his captain’s papers by war’s end, he gave up dentistry and spent the next thirty-one years as a merchant mariner.
Dr. John C. Minton was a dentist for nearly 20 years before moving to New Whatcom in February 1897 and setting up shop in the Fischer Block. A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and former chairman of the Board of Dental Examiners for the entire state of Texas, Dr. Minton immediately took his place among the elite of Bellingham Bay’s professional class.
On Valentine’s Day 1899, Dr. Minton and his wife, Hannah, were set to celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary. They’d accepted an invitation from their neighbors, the eminent Dr. H. J. Birney and his wife, Mae, for a relatively quiet evening.
Shortly after arriving at the Birney’s house, Dr. Minton received a phone call from his flustered daughter, Venna, at home. Apparently the sufferer of a vicious toothache had shown up at the Mintons’ house pleading for an extraction. Dr. and Mrs. Minton gathered their coats and hats and hurried back home to address the emergency.
On coming through their front door, the Mintons were greeted by more than 20 friends who had conspired in a surprise anniversary party! The alleged toothache victim was a mere ploy. Dr. and Mrs. Birney, in on the plot, soon arrived and “the rest of the evening was spent in games and other entertainment that made it quickly pass.”
T. Marvin Barlow was “a Bellingham boy” who became one of this city’s most distinguished dentists. Raised in Fairhaven, Barlow graduated from the University of Washington and North Pacific Dental College in Portland. Returning to Bellingham, he began his practice in 1904.
During his 53-year career, Barlow won numerous professional honors as a dentist. He served as president of the WSDA and, in 1945, helped found the University of Washington’s School of Dentistry. A life member of the American Dental Association, Barlow was appointed, in 1946, as the first West Coast representative to the A.D.A. Council of Education. He was still working on teeth two weeks prior to his death in 1957 at age 81.
Shortly after the turn of the century, dental companies and national chains became popular. These firms consisted of three or more dentists working as associates in one office with the senior partner serving as manager.
In 1902, the Whatcom Dental Parlors opened in the new Clover Block with seven rooms dedicated to “painless extracting.” The company was under the charge of Dr. Charles C. Turner for most of its dozen years in business. Whatcom Dental ads used a cartoon of a goofy looking boy, his smile missing a top incisor. “It didn’t hurt a bit,” he’s quoted as saying.
Dr. Orlando C. Gilbert founded the Modern Dental Parlors in 1901 “just across the street from the Beck Hotel” in the Holly Block. In four “private operating rooms” the company used an exclusive anesthetic during its fifty-cent extractions. The Modern’s ads describe the use of the numbing agent: “Just a simple application of a painless botanical formula applied to the gums and the tooth is removed without the slightest sense of pain.”
|In 1908, the New York Dental Parlors were on the second floor of the recently remodeled Sunset Block. The company’s sign over Holly Street couldn’t be missed by passersby.|
Gilbert became a partner in the New York Dental Syndicate, Inc., in 1908. Known to the public as the New York Dental Parlors, its suite of rooms was on the second floor of the newly remodeled Sunset Block. The syndicate had Seattle and Everett branches as well.
Local ads for the NY Dental Parlors claimed that its staff were “The Big Men in Painless Dentistry.” They were Dr. Jordan (in charge of fillings), Dr. Beach (“expert crown and bridge worker”) and Dr. Gilbert (committed to false teeth that fit). Prices in 1909 included silver fillings for fifty cents and 22-karat gold crowns for five dollars. The eight-dollar cost for a full set of dentures came with “free painless extracting.” These same ads boasted of the firm’s “Lady Assistants,” who “devote their entire time to making our patients comfortable, sterilize every instrument used and keep the offices neat and clean.”
A sign spelling “New York Dental Parlors” was hung above Holly at Elk (State) Street and became an instant landmark. At night the name lit up with bare electric bulbs forming each letter. Whatcom Dental was not to be outshined. When the firm moved to the second floor of the Exchange Building in 1909, Dr. Turner had a two-story tall sign proclaiming “Whatcom Dental Office” erected atop the building.
New York Dental Parlors moved to the new Bellingham National Bank Building in 1913 and their infamous sign moved, too, restrung over Holly between Railroad and Cornwall avenues. In 1915, Wilburt Guy Longwood bought out NY Dental, operating the office under the moniker “New York Painless Dentists.”
Longwood had a 49-year career as a Bellingham dentist and was a recognized specialist in exodontia and dental X rays. He formed a business partnership in 1941 with his son, Wilburt L., working together as “Longwood & Longwood.” Both were members of the Mount Baker Dental Society.
|Edna Warren, Bellingham’s first female dentist, in her dental college graduation photo.|
Edna Dean Warren was Bellingham’s first female dentist. Starting as an assistant to Dr. E. E. Ross in 1906, Miss Warren graduated from the North Pacific Dental College and in 1915 became a junior partner in Henry W. Spratley’s office in the Exchange Building. She later married Dr. John T. Ryan and moved to Mount Vernon. At the time of her death in 1943, Mrs. Ryan was a professor of dentistry at her alma mater.
In 1918, an office of the Painless Parker chain opened in Bellingham above a candy store in the Liberty Theater. It was one of numerous Painless Parker franchises in the U.S., which relied on a local anesthetic called “hydrocaine” to live up to their name.
Edgar Randolph Parker, founder of the company, had a reputation as an eccentric showman. He had been expelled from the New York School of Dentistry in 1889 for financing his education by going door-to-door offering tooth extraction. It was said he wore a necklace made of 357 human teeth, all pulled in one exceptional day of business.
Eventually getting a diploma from the Philadelphia Dental College, he started a string of dental parlors from New York to Los Angeles. A shameless promoter, Parker used vaudeville acts and publicity gimmicks to attract patients. In 1913, he purchased a circus to serve as a touring advertisement.
Parker’s antics, and success, led to his being branded a charlatan by more orthodox members of his profession. In Parker’s home state of California, his rivals lobbied the Legislature to pass a statute requiring dentists to practice under their legal names. Four months after the bill was passed, in 1915, Edgar Parker legally changed his first name to “Painless.”
Julia Scarseth was a longtime employee of Bellingham’s Painless Parker office. Originally hired as a lady assistant in 1918, Scarseth became a “dental hygienist” in 1928. The change in Scarseth’s job title reflected the significant advances made in dentistry following World War I. In the 1920s, check-ups and teeth cleaning were being introduced as means to preventative care and oral health.
When Painless Parker died in 1953, his empire of franchised parlors was sold to their individual operators. The Bellingham office was bought by its last manager, dentist Herman A. Fechtner.