Dentists I Have Not Known: “I am yours very truly” James Howell Harris, MD, DDS

This cabinet card portrait of Dr. James Howell Harris, MD, DDS, is dated 2 March 1888, the date of the 1888 commencement ceremony for the Dental Department of the University of Maryland, where Dr. Harris was a founding faculty member.

Harris’ life and career are fairly well-documented in the history University of Maryland, 1807-1907.

Harris was born on 31 October 1834 in Albemarle County, Virginia, to blacksmith Alanson Harris (1811-1866) and Sophia Ann Harris (1815-1893).  In 1861, James Harris earned the newly-emerging credential of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the prestigious Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. He obtained a medical degree from the Baltimore College of Physicians and Surgeons.

After the Civil War, he taught at his dental alma mater, then in 1882  left to help organize the newly-formed Dental Department at the University of Maryland.

There he held a professorship of Operative and Clinical Dentistry until his death in Baltimore on 12 December 1910. He was a colleague of Dr. John Uhler, about whom I wrote in a recent post.

Fellow Virginian Dr. Charles Lowndes Steel, Sr. (1860-1904; DDS Baltimore College of Dental Surgery 1881), brother of  Dr. Frank Ryland Steel DDS (University of Maryland Dental Dept. Class of 1888) boarded in the Harris home  on North Eutaw, and married Dr. Harris’ daughter Ella Harris (1868-1924).

His brother, Franklin Lewis Harris (1848-1911; DDS 1870, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery) and two of his sons, Charles C. Harris and James Edwin Harris (DDS, 1884, University of Maryland Dental Dept.), followed him into the dental profession.

Several obituaries mention that Dr. Harris served in the Confederate Medical Corps (Baltimore American 13 Dec 1910; Baltimore Sun 13 Dec 1910). I found a passing reference to his service in Company I of the 4th Virginia Cavalry (Marylanders in the Confederacy, Daniel Hartzler, 1986).

Harris is portrayed as a beloved  and devoted teacher who avoided public life.

Dr. Harris was, according to his biographer, “of a genial disposition and strong domestic habits” and an “active, enthusiastic and beloved teacher of successive classes of dental graduates.” 

One of his eulogists described him thus: “His students at the university were so deeply attached to him and he to them that they spent many of their evenings at his home” (Baltimore American 13 Dec 1910).

During his funeral, said the Sun, the senior class of the Dental Department gathered in front of his residence and marched “in a body” to Emmanuel Episcopal Church at Read and Cathedral streets “to pay their last respects” (Baltimore Sun 14 Dec 1910).

He is buried in Woodbine Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia, along with his second wife, Elizabeth Ann (Hardesty)  Harris (1841-1918).

According to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers, the studio of James S. Cummins‘ (1841-1895) was located at 5 N. Charles Street ca. 1886-1887, which fits nicely with my speculation that Dr. Harris gave this portrait as a token of affection to an unknown dental graduate in March 1888.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Frank Ryland Steel

Baltimore photographer William Ashman (1863-1902) took this cabinet card portrait identified in period ink on the reverse as Frank Ryland Steel (b. abt. 1867, Virginia), DDS. Steel may have sat for this photograph upon the occasion of his graduation from the Dental Department of the University of Maryland in March 1888.

After completing his studies, Frank followed his father,  George B. Steel (1835-1916), and his half-brother Charles Lowndes Steel (1860-1904) into the family dental practice in Richmond, Virginia. Charles had also studied in Baltimore–earning his DDS from the  Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1881.

Frank got his middle name from his mother, Martha “Mattie” Ryland Fleet (1839-1871). His father married three times in all, so the Steel household was a large one. All told, there were 12 siblings and half-siblings.

Frank Ryland Steel married a much younger woman, Dora Robertson,  in 1924; it appears they had no children, and by 1930 he was a widower, living alone in the small tidewater town of Urbanna, Virginia.

I have not been able to trace the Steels back beyond the census of 1860. Frank’s father George B. Steel was active in Richmond politics, and a 1911 campaign advertisement says only that George B. Steel’s father was “George Steel, a former merchant of this city” (Richmond Times Dispatch, 16 September 1911).

However ordinary his life appears, someone cared enough about Frank Ryland Steel to keep his portrait in their collection of dentists all these years.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. John C. Uhler

This cabinet card portrait of Dr. John Charles Uhler (1846-1917) is one of a number of photographic portraits of dentists from, based on the period ink identifications, what appears to be the same collection.

Born in Baltimore to merchant Erasmus B. Uhler (1818-1883) and Elizabeth (Deady) Uhler (1816-1893), John Uhler’s claim to renown is that he was among the first faculty appointed to the  School of Dentistry established at the University of Maryland in 1882.  Starting as Demonstrator of Prosthetic Dentistry, he became Associate Professor of Prosthetic Dentistry in 1900.

The new school was built upon the institutional foundation of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery.

Said to be the oldest school of dentistry in the world, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery  was established 1839-1840 with a charter from the State of Maryland. With this charter, the organizers created a new degree, the Doctor of Dental Surgery. Uhler obtained his degree there in 1867, and established a private practice.

Howard’s 1873 The Monumental City includes an advertisement for the college, then located at Eutaw and Lexington streets, that depicts a Second Empire-style three-story building with mansard roof.

Uhler was elected one of the first members of the Executive Committee of the Maryland State Dental Association in 1883.

In 1910, he lived with his sister-in-law and niece, Clara and May Uhler, at 938 Madison Avenue. Uhler retired from his practice and from teaching about 1913, and is buried near his parents in Greenmount Cemetery.

It is unclear whether the studio, Russell & Co., is related to that of William C. and Dora Russell. Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers dates the addresses to 1888; the presence of “new” means the photograph had to have been taken after the re-numbering of Baltimore streets that occurred in 1887.

The operator chose the popular vignette style for this head-and-shoulders portrait, burning out the background to create a soft, floating effect. Light falls from the upper left to create shadows that emphasize the Uhler’s appealing eyes, which gaze away from the camera as if he were thoughtfully contemplating the past and future of dentistry’s development.