UPDATED, September 17, 2021, to add a few details about the Morrison children, Jennie’s dental practice in the 1880s and ’90s, and the date of her divorce from second husband A. G. Widger.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I won’t be blogging much this week. (Let’s just say that the cause of my hiatus has inspired today’s post, featuring a brief introduction to the life of the Clarks’ youngest child, Dr. Jennie M. Clark, D.D.S.)
Unknown photographer, [Dentist], daguerreotype with applied color, circa 1855. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. CC0. si.edu. Click to open larger image in a new window.
Clark House dentists
I’m not sure who Mequon’s first dentist was, or when he set up shop. It’s entirely likely that the Jonathan Clark family did not visit a dentist until they moved to Milwaukee (and they still may not have seen a dentist once there). But Mequon’s Jonathan Clark House plays an important part in the lives of two Mequon/Milwaukee area dentists.
Dr. Gregory Custer
The house’s most recent previous owner was Dr. Gregory “Sandy” Custer, D.D.S. He bought the Clark house in 1978 and used it as his professional office for 33 years. It is our good fortune that he was such a thoughtful custodian of this historic building
The Kubala Washatko Architeects, Inc., “Jonathan Clark House Historic Structure Report,” Mequon, Wisconsin, May 2014, p. 11.
Dr. Custer decided to retire and sell the Clark house in 2011. This led to the establishment of the Friends of the Jonathan M. Clark House and their subsequent purchase of the house and creation of the Jonathan M. Clark House Museum. But Dr. Custer was not the only dentist associated with the 1848 house…
Dr. Jennie Clark Morrison, “lady dentist”
“Lady Dentist. Dr. Jennie Morrison,” advertisement, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 26, 1897, page 7. Via genealogybank.com
Jennie Marietta Clark was the eighth and last child of Jonathan M. and Mary (Turck) Clark. She was born—probably at the Clark house—on May 25, 1857, just four months before her father’s untimely death. She moved to Milwaukee with her mother and siblings in 1861/62, and attended the public schools there. In July, 1875, she received her diploma from the Normal Department, Milwaukee Public High School. This qualified her to teach elementary grades in the public schools. She taught school in Milwaukee (I believe without interruption) from September, 1875, through at least June 1, 1880.
Michigan and Ohio/West Virginia
Sometime in late-1880 or early-1881, Jennie Clark enrolled in the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. There she met fellow student Frank S. Morrison. After a quick courtship, the two were married on December 17, 1881, in Ann Arbor. They graduated with the dental school class of 1882. After graduation, Drs. Frank and Jennie Morrison set up practice together. After an initial year in Saginaw, Michigan, they lived the next five years in the Martin’s Ferry, Ohio/Wheeling, West Virginia area.
Between 1882 and 1895, Frank and Jennie Morrison had five children together, three boys and two girls. The Morrisons continued their joint dental practice during their Wheeling years, although Jennie appears to have paused her work from time to time to focus on their young family.
Return to Wisconsin
Jennie, Frank and their first three children (William Clark, Marie Louise and Henry Scott) moved to Milwaukee around 1888-1889; their last two children were born after the move. Frank continued work as a dentist. The Milwaukee City Directories for the late-1880s and early 1890s suggest that Jennie did not work for a year or so in the late-1880s and again in the early-1890s, roughly coinciding with the births of her last two children, son Sanford G. W. in 1889, and daughter (Elizabeth) Adeline in 1895.
Jennie resumed her joint dental practice with Frank in 1891. The marriage, however, did not last; Jennie sued for divorce in February, 1896 on grounds of desertion. The case lasted 14 months; the divorce was finally granted in April, 1897. Now a single mother with five young children to support, Jennie began her own solo dental practice in 1896.
On December 7, 1904—to the surprise of her friends and family—Jennie (Clark) Morrison married a second time, to a Washington county farmer named Alonzo George Widger. They ran a hotel in Waukesha for a brief while. It was not, however, a good match. Widger was verbally abusive and, on at least one occasion, threw Jennie out of their house. Jennie sued Widger for divorce on grounds of “cruel and inhumane treatment.” She was successful, and on September 3, 1906, the court awarded her $100 and the right to officially resume an earlier form of her name, “Jennie Clark Morrison.”
After divorcing Alonzo Widger, Jennie returned to Milwaukee and resumed her more-or-less full-time dental practice. She continued to see patients through at least 1930 or so. During her 50 years as a dentist, Jennie’s practice embraced a full range of up-to-date dental techniques and products. In addition to the usual fillings and extractions, in 1897 she advertised “plates [i.e., dentures] and bridgework a specialty.” And on pages 1-2 of the 1917 Journal of the American Dental Association, she published a paper on the proper terminology to describe certain types of gum disease, namely:1
In the early decades of the 1900s, in addition to her professional work as a dentist—and her role as the mother of five growing children—Jennie also turned her attention to a number of educational and civic issues, championing a variety of charitable causes designed to improve the lives of working-class children of Milwaukee.
Near the end of her long and eventful life, Jennie Clark Morrison began to suffer from heart disease. Sometime in the early 1930s she moved to Los Angeles, California, probably to live with her son Stanford G. W. Morrison and his family. Jennie died at Los Angeles County Hospital on February 17, 1937, aged 79. She was buried shortly afterwards in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Los Angeles County. On February 20, 1937, a memorial service was held for her Milwaukee friends and family at her long-time Milwaukee house of worship, St. James’ Church.
A few thoughts
I’ve come to know quite a bit about Jennie Clark Morrison, her life, her work, her marriages, and her children, much more than I have space for today. All in all, I think she was an admirable and remarkable woman. I would have liked to have known her.
All six Clark children that lived to adulthood led interesting lives, some more so than others. Of those six, Caroline, Persie and Jennie stand out for their intellect, perseverance, adventurousness, and dedication to others. They were remarkable women of their—or any—era. I look forward to sharing more of their stories with you in future posts.
And while we’re at it: can we give a round of applause to modern dentists and dental tools, materials, techniques and—not least—anesthesia? I mean, seriously folks…can you imagine how awful it was to have a bad cavity or decayed root back in the 1800s? Let’s hear it for medical science and technology!
I’ll be back in a bit. Maybe Friday, maybe next Monday.
Cheers. And don’t forget to brush and floss.
Although the title is in Latin, the body of Jennie’s paper is in English. For those of you wondering what topic a Midwestern “lady dentist” of 1917 might have addressed in her profession’s leading journal, here are the first two paragraphs of her article:
The term “Pyorrhea alveolaris,” so often used to denote an ulcerative condition of the pericemental fibers, with a consequent pus-flow, is inexact, incomplete, and grammatically incorrect. It is inexact because the word “Pyorrhea,” meaning “pus-flow” may be a purulent discharge from any organ or part of the body, it is inexact because the term alveolaris (generative case, meaning “of the alveolus” ) may pertain to any alveolus in the body, namely, to the alveoli or air-sac of the lungs, or to any one of the many honey comb cells of the gastric mucous membrane, as well as to the alveoli contained in the alveolar process of the submaxillary bone.
Let us examine this title or rather this misnomer for a moment. “Pyorrhea” (a pus flow), a noun, singular number, nominative case, first declension, is so far, correct, but too indefinite, as the word must be limited in same way to define the exact location of the purulent condition. How then shall this term “ Pyorrhea” be limited to mean, or to restrict its meaning to the pus-flow found exuding from the pericemental fibers and other soft tissues, (comprehensively know as the “gingivae,”) that surround and support those organs of mastication, the teeth, without which organs a truly normal condition of the body and mind, seldom exists.