London, England — 1903-1991
Leader and Organizer of Federation Dentaire International & Champion of Preventive Dentistry
Dr. Gerald H. Leatherman was born in London, England on February 18, 1903. His family moved to South Africa when he was nine years old. His early education was at King Edward VII School in Johannesburg and Witwatersrand University, where he studied chemistry and physics.
In 1918 he visited the dental office of his father’s close friend, Lemuel Morgan-Davis, who had graduated from Harvard Dental School in Boston, Massachusetts six years previously. He was fascinated by what he saw in Morgan-Davis’ office; crowns, dentures and the use of plaster of Paris for impressions.
This was the first example he had seen of an American-trained dentist in practice. Morgan-Davis arranged for Gerald Leatherman to attend Harvard Dental School in Boston. He spent 31 days traveling from Durban to New York City on a small freighter working to pay his way.
He enrolled at age 17 in Harvard Dental School in September 1920. During his enrollment he said there was an attempt to make us biologically conscious, as well as technically efficient. However, it was good basic scientific training and education.” During his four years of dental school he worked during his four-month summer vacations at a hotel and a steel furniture factory and traveled. In his writings he has stated “I learned that dentists – addressed as doctors – were respected, and even dental students could be proud of their education, training and future profession.” Dr. Leatherman completed his dental education and graduated from Harvard University Dental School in 1924 cum laude.
Upon his return to England he enrolled in Guy’s Hospital Dental School, He passed all the requirements and qualified to sit for the examination in December 1924. He successfully passed and was awarded a Licentiate in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
He returned to South Africa, but when he found out that Lemuel Morgan-Davis, the American trained dentist had returned to the United States due to illness, he only stayed for six weeks. He returned to London and in 1926 be started his private practice on Harley Street. His dental training and philosophy of dentistry was such that he built a thriving practice based on oral hygiene and prevention, combined with high quality restorative dentistry. His insistence on providing optimal care for his patients was well received and he was rewarded with a very successful and thriving practice. He soon joined with an American trained dentist who shared the same philosophy and they enjoyed over 20 years of practicing together. Dr. Leatherman was constantly seeking new and better ways to provide care for his patients. He was quoted in one report about traveling to Stockholm and seeing the use of local anesthesia, Xylocaine, being used. He brought it back to London and subsequently began using it for his patients.
In 1931 he attended his first Federation Dentaire International meeting, the 8th Intemational Congress in Paris. This experience set the tone for his interest and involvement in the dental profession throughout the world. By 1939 he had established a very successful practice that was interrupted by the beginning of the war. He served 5 years with the RAF and played a leading role in the establishment of the first dental hygiene training school in England. He was keenly aware of the unmet needs and the acute shortage of dental manpower being encountered during the war. He had the vision and insight to understand the role that properly trained dental hygienists could play in helping to alleviate the crisis. He was truly a pioneer in establishing the use of auxiliary personnel in the practice of dentistry and stated “The development of dental practice over the past 100 years has made it obvious that the dentist of today, if he wishes to make full use of his skills and knowledge, without loss of time, lowering the standards, and uneconomic practice, must employ auxiliary personnel.”
Following World War II he returned to London to re-establish his practice on Harley Street. In 1947 he attended an FDI meeting in Boston at the suggestion of A. E. Rowlett. At that time the FDI was a professional organization representing 31 national associations and less than 1000 individual members. He was elected to the position of Assistant Secretary General of FDI and given the task of organizing the 1952 FDI meeting in London. The 1952 meeting was a great success and Dr. Gerald Leatherman was elected Secretary General of FDI.
During this period he had the opportunity to meet and work with Dr. Harold Hillenbrand, the Executive Director of the American Dental Association, Together, they developed the philosophy and constitution of the FDI and expanded the FDI far beyond pre-war boundaries of Europe and North America.
History shows that Dr. Gerald H. Leatherman was elected Executive Director of FDI in 1970, a name change in title only, but not in responsibility. He continued to serve until 1975 at which time he retired after serving in a leadership position for nearly 25 years. Federation Dentaire Intemational had grown to an organization with 73 full member associations and 10,000 individual members. At the close of the 1975 FDI meeting he was elected to the position of Executive Director Emeritus.
Dr. Leatherman was a man who enjoyed all aspects of life. He enjoyed a very successful private practice for nearly 50 years until his retirement. His involvement in dental politics was extensive and his peers worldwide recognized him. In his personal life he had two daughters with his first wife, Constance. His second marriage to Margaret brought him much joy and satisfaction. She died tragically in 1979. Dr. Gerald H. Leatherman died on December 11, 1991 from cancer.
During his lifetime Dr. Leatherman was recognized throughout the world for his contributions to the dental profession. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Temple University School of Dentistry, Philadelphia and the University of Turkey. He was elected to over 37 honorary memberships throughout the world including the American Dental Association, the Australian Dental Association, the American Dental Society of Europe and the Canadian Dental Association. He published countless papers and gave innumerable lectures throughout the world during his 50 plus years of service to dentistry.
He was elected to fellowship in the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, The American College of Dentists, the Intemational College of Dentists, the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons, The Royal College of Dentists of Canada, The Harriet Newell Research Society of Harvard University School of Dental Medicine, the Royal Society of Medicine (Odontological Section) and the Royal Society of Health.
Dame Margaret Seward titled Dr. Gerald H. Leatherman as “The Father of World Dentistry”. Anyone, who worked with him, followed his professional career and read of his many accomplishments would have to agree. It is truly an honor for the Pierre Fauchard Academy to recognize the late Dr. Gerald H. Leatherman as the 14th recipient into the International Hall of Fame of Dentistry.