Any woman of average will-power, a steady purpose, conscientiousness, who will pay attention to small details, is careful and painstaking... can if she wishes make a comfortable living [in dentistry] and be of benefit to many persons [and] perhaps [aid] in some scientific discoveries, if she will perservere.Vida Latham, pictured at left in her 1892 graduation photo. SMD 292.1892.
MS 1889 University of London
DDS 1892 University of Michigan
MD 1895 Northwestern University Women’s Medical School
Vida Latham was a highly accomplished dentist and physician who combined the two disciplines to the betterment of both. She avidly supported a stronger science curriculum in dental schools. In contrast to many women who specialized in women’s and children’s dentistry, Latham had a special interest in microscopy and published numerous research papers that described techniques and procedures for preparing specimens. She also enthusiastically supported women in dentistry and medicine through teaching, mentoring and founding organizations that furthered women in these fields.
In Pursuit of Science
Vida Latham was born in England, the daughter of a physician who hoped she would also become a doctor. Educated in Manchester and Cambridge, England, she became interested in dentistry and clinical research while working with a London dentist. American journals published her papers on pain and tooth anatomy in 1888.
Sex Is No Barrier
Determined to become a dentist, in 1884 Latham contacted Professor Macleod at the University of Edinburgh for advice. Macleod was reassuring, “Your sex does not present any barrier to examination, nor does it carry with it any disqualification to practice.” He also recommended the University of Michigan and Harvard whose diplomas would be accepted for licensure in Great Britain.
First Ann Arbor, Then Chicago
Latham chose to attend the University of Michigan. Her work was so outstanding, she taught as a demonstrator in bacteriology and comparative anatomy while still a student. Just as she graduated in 1892, Great Britain withdrew its acceptance of American dental degrees. Unable to use her degree in Britain, Latham moved to Chicago.
Better Science in Dentistry
Latham firmly believed that dentistry should have the same foundation in anatomy, histology, embryology and physiology as medicine rather than focusing primarily on mechanical skills. She obtained a medical degree from Northwestern University Woman’s Medical College, in 1895 and pushed for better science courses in dental colleges.
Latham joined the American Microscopy Society, created a research laboratory and taught at several Chicago hospitals. She was committed to sharing techniques and information among doctors and dentists. A prolific publisher, she provided specific details for the preparation of slides and included illustrations in her articles, which was unusual for the time.
In addition to research and teaching responsibilities, Latham opened a practice in Rogers Park, Illinois in 1895. She kept meticulous records of patients, treatments and fees. Latham maintained that practice until she retired, sharing her home and office with Dr. Bertha Bush, a surgeon she met at Women’s Medical College.
Supporter of Women in Medicine and Dentistry
Latham vigorously promoted women in dentistry. She was vice-chairman of the Women’s Committee at the 1893 World’s Columbian Dental Congress in Chicago and a member of the Dental Women’s Club of Chicago. In 1921, she was a founding member of the Federation of Women Dentists that became the American Association of Woman Dentists.
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