Uncovering History: Dr. William D. Reeve Through The Years

Lauren Katz Digital Archives, Research

This blog post was written by Eric Schubert, a 2021 Intern at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. He is a junior at Elizabethtown College and working on his history and political science degree.

Dr. William Driver Reeve’s Dentistry Board Certificate, 1914.

In today’s day and age, various historical databases can tell us so much about the lives of those who lived before us. By picking a record of an individual at random from any historical database, such as the entry of Dr. William Driver Reeve in the Weber County, Utah Clerk Dentistry and Optometry Board Certificates database, we can build a timeline that paints a picture of Dr. Reeve’s impact through time, and the history of his life. 

On March 11th, 1909, the Act To Regulate The Practice Of Dentistry In The State Of Utah was passed into law. Those wishing to become a dentist at that time were to apply to the State Board of Examiners for a certificate. Twenty-seven-year-old Weber County resident William Driver Reeve, who was born in Utah to English parents in 1887, did so on July 8th, 1914 to receive his first ever dentist certificate.

William Driver Reeve was born May 27th, 1887 in Ogden, Utah to John J. Reeve (1858-1914) and Ellen B. Driver (1862-1935).

We do not know when exactly Dr. Reeve began to practice dentistry after becoming certified to do so in the summer of 1914; however, we do know from his WWI draft card that by 1917 he was practicing. He lists himself on his draft card, signed June 5, 1917 in Salt Lake City, as William Driver Reeve, D.D.S (Doctor of Dental Surgery), living on Fifth Avenue, single, and a practicing dentist at “Painless Withers.” 

“Painless Withers” was short for “Painless Withers Dental Co. Inc,” the name of the office of Dr. W.L. (William Lee) Withers, a dentist slightly older than Dr. Reeve who was born in Nebraska but was at that time living and practicing in Utah. Withers came to Utah in 1912 and had a career as a highly successful private practice dentist until his death in 1945. His first practice, and the one where Dr. Reeve was working in 1917, was located at 122 South Main Street in Salt Lake City. 

The dental profession in the 1920s was vastly different from today. X-Rays had just been introduced, tools were still in their infancy and included a mallet and pliers, and drills were still thirty years out from being invented. According to the National Museum of American History, “dental decay ruined the teeth of rich and poor alike—few people owned or regularly used toothbrushes until the 1920s or so,” and it was a general rule of thumb that many only saw the dentist when problems arose, such as a tooth needing to be pulled or something similar. Anesthesia was not commonly used, and usually trips were painful. The dentistry Dr. Reeve practiced in 1920 was most certainly different from the dentistry he practiced in 1940, and is also different from what is practiced today in 2021. 

Dr. William Driver Reeve upon graduation, exact date unknown. C.1910-1914

According to the 1920 Census, Dr. Reeve was living with his maternal aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Burton of Salt Lake City. Dr. Reeve had numerous Burton cousins who were still living in the household as well, on Fifth Avenue. Based on his WWI Draft Card, Dr. Reeve likely lived at this home from at least 1917 until this point in time. He is enumerated as a practicing dentist at “Union Dental,” thirty-one years old (although he was actually thirty-two), and single. “Union Dental” indicates that Dr. Reeve was no longer employed at Painless Withers. 

The next record of Dr. Reeve comes in the 1930 Census. He had moved to Los Angeles, California, where he remained for the rest of his life. He was living with another maternal aunt, uncle, and cousins, Mr. and Mrs. William Pearson. Dr. Reeve is listed as forty-one (he was actually forty-three), single, and working at a dentist’s office. We don’t know why Dr. Reeve moved from Utah to California between 1920 and 1930, but he clearly had family ties in the area with the Pearsons, and additionally, he had a brother from San Francisco who was also a dentist. Dr. Reeve’s younger brother, Dr. George Reeve, D.D.S., died in 1924 in San Francisco.

The Pasadena Post: August 3rd, 1933.

Married in 1933 to widower Bertha Shiel, who worked for the American Legion, Reeve then resided with his wife at 1727 Redesdale Avenue in Los Angeles. In 1942, on his WWII Draft Card, Dr. Reeve listed his own office at 707 South Broadway in Los Angeles, CA. The couple later lived in Arcadia for twelve years and finally settled in Temple City. For twenty-one years, Dr. Reeve worked as a dentist at the Fred Nelles School For Boys, though the exact dates are unknown. The Fred Nelles School For Boys was located in Whittier, and had originally opened in 1891 as the Whittier State School for juvenile offenders.

1950s Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the Reeve family residence.

Starting with his entry in the Utah Dental Certificates database, it is easy to track Dr. Reeve through time with other records and see the historical narrative of his life. In 1914, Reeve had just obtained his dental certificate in Utah. By 1920, he was practicing in the state under an accomplished dentist. By 1930, he had moved to Los Angeles and was practicing in another office, by 1940 he had his own office, and at that time was additionally working for The Fred Nelles School For Boys. Dr. Reeve lived and practiced through a changing dental profession, being a dentist for more than forty years. 


Dr. Reeve’s grave stone in Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello, California.

Dr. Reeve died on July 29th, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by his wife, Bertha, and his adopted step-daughter, Bertha Shiel Reeve Flynn. Husband and wife are buried together at Plot A within Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello, Los Angeles County, California. 

By starting with just one random record in one unique historic database, a complete timeline on any individual, such as on Dr. William D. Reeve can be established that shows so much about his life.

Sources Used:

Ancestry. In “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.” Accessed October 27, 2021. Imaged draft registration card 82-340.

Ancestry. In “U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.” Accessed October 27, 2021. Imaged draft registration card 1201-2778.

Ancestry. “William Driver Reeve.” Accessed October 6, 2021. 

“Auxiliary Officer Wed.” The Pasadena Post, August 3, 1933. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/87893674/.

Find a Grave. “Dr William Driver Reeve (1887-1959).” Accessed September 28, 2021. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/135623314/william-driver-reeve

Katzmark, Glennis. “History of Dentistry Part 1: 1900-1955.” Accessed March 11, 2021. https://www.ak-dentistry.com/history-dentistry-1900-1955/.

Wikipedia. “Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility.” Accessed November 25, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_C._Nelles_Youth_Correctional_Facility

Photographs and images used:

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California. Map. Sanborn Map Company, 1950. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn00656_061/.

Bray, Clifton L. Building, Feb. 1936. Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, 1936. In Clifton Bray Film Negatives. J. Willard Marriott Digital Library. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=424509&q=painless%2Bwithers.

Find a Grave. “Dr William Driver Reeve (1887-1959).” Accessed September 28, 2021. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/135623314/william-driver-reeve

Dentistry and Optometry Board Certificates. Weber County Clerk, 1914. Utah Division of Archives and Records Service, series 5282. https://images.archives.utah.gov/digital/collection/p17010coll11/id/162/rec/1.

“Auxiliary Officer Wed.” The Pasadena Post, August 3, 1933. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/87893674/.