Dr. John M. Hyson Jr.

Timonium Resident Was An Expert On Dental History And Oversaw The National Museum Of Dentistry In Baltimore

September 29, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Dr. John Miller Hyson Jr., a retired dentist and former director of archives and history at the National Museum of Dentistry at the University of Maryland Dental School and an author who wrote widely on the history of dentistry, died Saturday of a stroke at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care.

The longtime Timonium resident was 81.

Dr. Hyson, the son of a dentist and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Ellerslie Avenue.

After graduating from Loyola High School in 1945, he attended Loyola College for a year before transferring to the University of Maryland Dental School, from which he graduated in 1950.

He served as a dental officer in the Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida from 1950 to 1953 and was discharged with the rank of captain.

He earned a master's degree in oral surgery from the University of Maryland Dental School in 1959, and a master's degree in museum studies in 1999 from the University of Delaware.

In 1953, he established a general dental practice in Idlewylde, and later moved in 1976 to the Osler Medical Center near St. Joseph Medical Center, where he continued practicing until retiring in 1999.

Dr. Hyson had been a member of the visiting dental staff at Maryland General Hospital and what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center.

He also had been an instructor in oral surgery and operative dentistry at the University of Maryland Dental School during the 1950s.

In addition to enjoying practicing dentistry, Dr. Hyson was fascinated by the history of his profession. He became a prodigious contributor to the Journal of the History of Dentistry, Military Medicine, and the Bulletin of the History of Dentistry.

His articles covered such topics as the history of the toothbrush, women dentists, George Washington's dental health and his wooden dentures, African-American contract dental surgeons in the Spanish American War, Dr. James Baxter Bean and the establishment of first military maxillofacial hospital and the founding of the West Point Dental Service.

His 1994 article in Bulletin of the History of Dentistry asked, Did You Know A Dentist Embalmed President Lincoln? His original research led to a story titled "William Saunders: The United States Army's First Dentist-West Point's Forgotten Man" that was published by Military Medicine in 1984.

In addition to researching and writing about the history of dentistry, Dr. Hyson served as curator of the National Museum of Dentistry from 1992 to 1996, when he was promoted to director of curatorial services, a position he held for three years until being named director of curatorial affairs.

Dr. Hyson was director of archives and history at the museum from 2002 until 2003, when he stepped down.

He was the author of two books, "History of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery: The World's First Dental School;" and "A History of Dentistry in the U.S. Army to World War II."

"He worked on the dental history of the Army for 20 years and did it in the evening," said a son, Dr. John M. Hyson III, also a dentist, who lives in Baldwin.

"He was a major historian and wrote the history of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, which was founded in 1840 and was the first dental school in the world," said Dr. Christian Stohler, who has been dean of the school since 2003.

"Its history had never been written until John put it together, and it's an absolute stellar job. It succeeded in putting us back on the map because dental education didn't start in Europe, it started in Baltimore," he said.

Dr. Stohler recalled that his friend had a great ability in looking and studying archival material and putting it together in an informative and historic narrative.

"He was quiet, meticulous and precise. His passion was for getting it right and capturing the history and spirit of the school," he said. "He loved the dental school and took great pride in it and the chance to give back. The dental school really was John's life."

Dr. David A. Denisch, a Towson dentist, is a longtime friend.

"John was the world's foremost dental historian. There's no question about that," Dr. Denisch said. "His research was impeccable, well-documented and referenced. You can't help but appreciate someone like John, who has included a good bibliography and notes."

Dr. Hyson also was an avid collector of historic dental memorabilia dating back to the 19th century, including instruments, dental office furniture, books, U.S. Army Dental Corps uniforms and even a World War I-era folding dental chair that would have been used in a field hospital.

Part of Dr. Hyson's collection was purchased recently by the Army Medical Department Museum Foundation in San Antonio, Texas.

Dr. Hyson was a longtime communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues, Towson, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Oct. 10.

Also surviving are his wife of 59 years, the former Elayne Rhein; another son, Gerald M. Hyson of Timonium; and three grandchildren.

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