Orthodontist, lepidopterist, editor, novelist. Ottolengui was born in Charleston on March 15, 1861, the second of three children born to Daniel Ottolengui, a newspaperman, and Helen Rosalie Rodriguez, an author. His grandfather Benjamin Adolph Rodrigues was a pioneer dentist who played an important part in establishing dentistry in South Carolina.
Ottolengui attended the College of Charleston but moved to New York City in 1877 to serve an apprenticeship under Dr. J. Albert Kimball. He obtained a master of dental surgery degree from the Regents of the State of New York in 1885. Ottolengui then practiced dentistry in the office of Dr. William A. Atkinson, “dean” of the dental profession. He served another apprenticeship with Dr. Norman Kingsley, who tutored him in cleft palate. As Kingsley’s protégé, Ottolengui became interested in orthodontics and began writing articles on “regulating” teeth in 1892. He made substantial contributions to pulp canal therapy and cleft palate restoration, and was one of the first dentists to use X rays.
Ottolengui was the author of a dental text, Methods of Filling Teeth; a chapter on malocclusion in Fones’s Textbook for Dental Hygienists; and a collection of dental writings published under the title Table Talks on Dentistry. He was a dental editor for almost forty years, starting in 1896 with Items of Interest, a periodical (later Dental Items of Interest). Ottolengui enlarged it into a journal and inau- gurated a department of orthodontics, which he illustrated with drawings of classical figures from mythology. Ottolengui also published the proceedings of the American Society of Orthodontists from 1901 to 1920 until it was taken over by the International Journal of Orthodontia.
An avid reader of detective stories, Ottolengui was a pioneer in forensic dentistry and authored at least five mystery novels. Ellery Queen dubbed Ottolengui “one of the most neglected authors in the entire history of the detective story.” His first mystery, An Artist in Crime (1893), was also published in England, France, Poland, and Germany. Ottolengui’s next book, A Conflict of Evidence (1893), was followed by A Modern Wizard (1894), which was brought to the attention of the Pasteur Institute because of the possibility advanced in the story that some forms of insanity were traceable to microorganisms. He also wrote The Crime of the Century (1896) and Final Proof: Or the Value of Evidence (1898).
Ottolengui was a charter member of the New York Entomological Society. His interest in the family of noctuid moths, the plusiide (plusias), led him to become an authority in the United States on this group. In 1913 he wrote a monograph on every North American species of plusias, describing fourteen new species and illustrating them with his own photographs. The American Museum of Natural History allotted his collection special space and labeled it “The Ottolengui Collection.”
Ottolengui was awarded several honorary doctorates. He was a widower, his wife, May Hall Ottolengui, having died on July 10, 1936. Ottolengui died of a heart ailment and a stroke after a long illness in New York City on July 11, 1937.
“Dr. Ottolengui, 76, Dentist 50 Years.” New York Times, July 13, 1937, p. 19.
“Dr. Rodrigues Ottolengui, Editor from 1896 to 1937.” Dental Items of Interest 75 (October 1953): 816–22.
Wahl, Norman. “Vignette Rodrigues Ottolengui, MDS, DDS, LLD, FACD.” American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics (March 2000): 365–66.