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The History of Dental Assistants

A Lady in Attendance

All dental assistants were first known as "Ladies in Attendance" dating back to 1885, when a New Orleans dentist, Dr. C. Edmund Kells -- a pioneer in the profession of dentistry, specifically the use of x-rays and treating dental abscesses -- incorporated his wife into his dental practice to assist him when needed.

We must assume her duties were likely mixing materials of one kind or another but mostly cleaning up after procedures. As Dr. Kells' dental practice became more successful, the need for additional help prompted him to hire Malvina Cueria. Recognized as the first dental assistant in modern history, Malvina was only a teen when she began her career. Her presence in the dental office made it possible for women to have dental treatment done without their husbands' company in the operatory, an unrecognized triumph for women's rights.

Malvina Cueria served as an American Dental Assistants Association district trustee from 1953 to 1956. At the age of 87, she was honored by the professional organization and spoke of her experiences as a dental assistant in the beginnings of dentistry at a convention in New Orleans in 1980. Malvina passed away December 4, 1991 at the age of 98.


Juliette A. Southard & the American Dental Assistants Association

Employed by New York City dentist, Dr. Henry Fowler, in the early 1900's Juliette A. Southard, known for her devotion to her profession and intelligence, utilized her devotion to dental assisting by forming a dental assistants society in 1921 in New York, following the first dental assistants society formed in Nebraska in 1917.

Juliette A. Southard’s vision to form a national organization that would bring together dental assistants from across the country did not end with her dental assistants’ society formation in New York. Juliette struggled to break professional barriers and petitioned to receive permission that would allow herself and Jessie Ellsworth, President of the Chicago & Cook County Dental Assistants Association, to attend the 1923 American Dental Association convention held in Cleveland, Ohio. This historical moment for these women would lead to the election of Juliette Southard as President of the newly formed American Dental Assistants Association in 1924 at a Dallas, Texas meeting. After bylaws and a constitution were carefully established, the Association was officially incorporated on March 17, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois.

Modern Professional Organization

Established over 90 years ago, the American Dental Assistants Association is the oldest and largest professional association dedicated to making dental assisting a profession. The ADAA provides its members with a long list of personal services and benefits. For more information regarding the history of the American Dental Assistants Association, please click here.

Establishment of a New State Association

Harriet G. Hamann was instrumental in organizing the Oregon Dental Assistants Association in 1940 with the dentists at the Pacific North West Dental Conference in Portland. She served as the first Oregon Dental Assistants Association President and later held many offices within the Association.

Harriet was a life member of the American Dental Assistants Association, the Oregon Dental Assistants Association and the Portland Dental Assistants Society. She was a delightful little lady that always made one feel welcome at meetings and was helpful with every little detail. She enjoyed working within the associations and often took part in many Installation Ceremonies. Harriet was a lifetime resident of Portland, working 40 years for an oral surgeon, Dr. Frank Mihnos, until her retirement in 1970.

Harriett was the center of attention at the Presidents banquet, always somewhat of a little clown, always cheerful and seeing that everyone was having a good time. She loved life. After leaving her apartment she resided in a lovely retirement home in SE Portland. While there she still did little things to make it more pleasant for everyone else. She loved flowers, trees and often walked around the yard. But best of all she liked to go the shopping centers, have a coke and to laugh with whom ever she might be with.

She didn't wake up one morning two days before her 93rd birthday, April 28th. At her request, her ashes were dropped on Mt. Hood.

She will forever be missed by all who knew her.


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