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William S. Dennett


Centurion, 1892–1925

Full Name William Sawyer Dennett

Born 1 March 1849 in Bangor, Maine

Died 6 March 1925 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Buried Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine

Proposed by Wolcott Gibbs and Joseph H. Choate

Elected 5 March 1892 at age forty-three

Supporter of:

Century Memorial

Those who knew William S. Dennett intimately—and they were few, because his shy nature did not lend itself to wide acquaintanceship—soon fell under the spell of his very remarkable mind. Instead of fitting glasses, his friends believed he should have been professor of physics in a college. But he entered on his life-career at a time when college professors were paid $2,000 a year and a good ophthalmologist could make $10,000 with much less mental effort. Even so, and at the end of an exacting day, he greatly preferred to read a stiff book on calculus than to spend an evening on light literature. His mechanical skill and ingenuity in devising apparatus, and his clear way of seeing to the roots of things, pointed to his real vocation.

In later years, while he loved to mull over his old books such as Gauss’s Optische Untersuchungen or de Morgan’s Calculus and The Budget of Paradoxes, it was always with a whimsical remark that it was not for him to join with that group of the Immortals, however much he might enjoy what others had achieved. Nevertheless, in his purely professional work he was wholly competent; his knowledge and instinct ranging, indeed, far into the field of general medicine. His professional associates used to tell the story of a patient who had wandered from one specialist to another and was finally referred to Dr. Dennett, to have her eyes fitted with glasses to relieve persistent headaches. He glanced at the patient, took her temperature, and suggested quietly that she go home, as she probably had typhoid fever. The diagnosis was confirmed by the event.

Alexander Dana Noyes
1926 Century Association Yearbook