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Dent, Albert Walter (1904-1984) | Amistad Research Center

Name: Dent, Albert Walter (1904-1984)

Historical Note:

Albert Walter Dent was an educator, hospital administrator, and President of Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisana. Dent played a significant role in the development of Dillard University and affected the lives of many African American students who became civil rights activists and leaders. He was also involved in several organizations, including the formation of the United Negro College Fund, an educational assistance organization that provides assistance to 41 private historically black member colleges and universities.

Dent was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 25, 1904. His father was a day laborer who died shortly before his birth and his mother a domestic, who also worked several jobs to support the family. Upon graduation from high school, Dent enrolled at Morehouse College where he majored in business administration and was active in student affairs, such as the basketball team, glee club, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, and orchestra, and served as auditor of the Athletic Association. In addition to these activities, Dent worked at the Atlanta Life Insurance Company as an auditor. After graduating in 1926 with a degree in accounting, Dent became a branch office auditor for Atlanta Life.

In 1927, Dent joined the Safety Construction Company in Houston, Texas, as its vice president. In 1931, at the urging of John Hope, President of Morehouse, Dent returned to the university as its alumni secretary and director of its endowment campaign. During that same year, Dent married Ernestine Jessie Covington, the only daughter of Dr. Benjamin Jesse Covington and Jennie Belle Covington. Dr. Covington was a noted Houston physician. Jessie graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and received a fellowship to the Julliard Graduate School of Music in New York City, where she studied piano for four years. The Dent's would have three sons: Thomas Covington, Benjamin Albert, and Walter Jesse.

While working at Morehouse College, Dent met Will W. Alexander, the acting President of Dillard University. Alexander hired Dent as the superintendent of Flint-Goodridge Hospital in New Orleans. The university and hospital grew out of the merger of Straight College, an American Missionary Association school, and New Orleans University, under the Methodist Episcopal Church. Representatives of the two schools, the Rosenwald Fund, the General Education Board (GEB), as well as local White residents met in New Orleans on February 21-22, 1929. The group agreed to abandon Straight College and New Orleans University campuses for a new consolidated campus and hospital. The hospital scheduled for construction first, would retain the name of Flint-Goodridge. The resulting institution of higher learning was opened in 1935 and named Dillard University after James Hardy Dillard, a former professor at Tulane University and a well-known advocate of Black education.

The new, well-equipped hospital opened in February 1932. Flint-Goodridge was designed for the dual purpose of meeting the medical needs of Black New Orleanians and serving as a teaching hospital for Black physicians and nurses. In 1932, New Orleans had thirty-five licensed Black doctors and Flint-Goodridge was the only hospital in New Orleans where they could practice.

In 1935, on Stern's recommendation, the Dillard board of trustees assigned Dent additional responsibility as business manager of the university. Dent served in this dual capacity as Superintendent of Flint-Goodridge Hospital and Business Manager of Dillard University until 1941.

In 1936, Dent introduced the "Penny-A-Day" hospitalization plan. The "Penny-A-Day" plan was the predecessor to all health insurance plans in the United States. For a $3.65 yearly premium, the plan guaranteed up to twenty-one days of hospitalization each year. More than 100 New Orleans employers cooperated and allowed their workers to use payroll deduction for plan membership. By December 1938, 3,231 people had joined the plan. The Penny-A-Day Program continued until 1943, when Flint-Goodridge joined the Hospital Association of New Orleans's citywide insurance plan. Under Dent's leadership, Flint-Goodridge not only made its presence felt in New Orleans, but the hospital also actively promoted better standards of health care in other parts of the country, and as a result, Dent was elected a fellow of the American College of Hospital Administrators, the first African American so honored.

On May 31, 1941, Dent, was elected the third president of Dillard University, a position he held for 28 years. Dent proved to be as efficient in the management of the university as he had been at the hospital. He strengthened the faculty, increased the academic offerings, raised the endowment, and established a college nursing program. The college of nursing program was a five year program that led to a Bachelor of Science Degree and was the first nationally accredited college nursing program in Louisiana. Dent also completed Dillard University's building program, which consisted of renovating and enlarging buildings and the construction of new buildings on campus.

On May 21, 1940, Dent and Stern met with representatives of the American Missionary Association, the Board of Education of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Rosenwald Fund, and the GEB and appealed for help in securing a $3,000,000 endowment. In June 1944, Dent announced the successful completion of the endowment. Ten years later the endowment had increased to $4,500,000. Dent consequently became widely known for his money-raising skills. This reputation and his close relationship with various philanthropic foundations resulted in his appointment to a national planning committee, which resulted in the establishment of the United Negro College Fund in 1944. The United Negro College Fund is a fund that raises money for the 41 member institutions' operating expenses, including teacher salaries, scholarships, and education equipment. It also manages the endowment funds and finances the construction, expansion, and maintenance of physical plants at the member institutions. Dent was chairman of the fund from 1965-1970

In 1948, Dent was elected president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for Negroes. He was on the boards of the National Merit Scholarship Program and the Committee on Faculty Fellowships of the Ford Fund for the Advancement of Education, and a board member of the American Council of Education.

Dent retired from Dillard University in 1969 after twenty-eight years of service, but remained a consultant. After his retirement Dent continued his pace of involvement with several boards, charities, and civic organizations. In 1973, Dillard dedicated its new health and physical education building to Dent, renaming it Albert Walter Dent Hall. Dent died in New Orleans in February of 1984.

Note Author: Shannon Burrell

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