In honor of March being Women’s History Month, we’re recognizing a handful of very important women in the history of dentistry. These women dentists overcame numerous hurdles to pave the way for other women in dentistry, and we’re proud to offer a glimpse at their stories.
Dr. Emeline Roberts Jones — A pioneer for women in the field of dentistry, Emeline Roberts Jones’s interest in the industry started when she married dentist Daniel Jones in 1854 at the age of 18. Daniel, like so many men at the time, didn’t believe that women were suited for dentistry because of their “frail and clumsy fingers,” so Emeline studied dentistry in private. Eventually she reached a point where she began secretly extracting and filling teeth, gaining the experience that she would need to ultimately convince her husband of her skill in the craft.
Within a year of their marriage, Emeline became so capable at dentistry that she convinced Daniel to let her practice with him. By 1859, she was his partner.
Emeline continued to practice dentistry throughout her life, earning her a place in the Connecticut Dental Society and as an honorary member of the National Dental Association.
Dr. Lucy Beaman Hobbs Taylor — Dr. Taylor changed the dental industry forever when she became the first woman to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1866, but it wasn’t easy for her to make that happen. Orphaned by age 12, Taylor nevertheless persevered as she overcame her circumstances to become a teacher. While boarding with a physician during her teaching days, Taylor became fascinated with medicine and was encouraged to study the craft at Eclectic Medical College in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The school refused to admit women, but she convinced a member of the faculty to tutor her until she applied to the Ohio College of Dentistry, which also refused to admit a woman. Undeterred, Taylor went to work in the office of Dr. Jonathan Taft, dean of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery, where she gained enough experience to open her own dental practice in 1861.
Taylor then moved to Iowa, where she opened a successful practice and even became a member of the Iowa State Dental Society. The organization helped convince the Ohio College of Dental Surgery to admit Taylor, and she was able to graduate as the first woman in the world with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree — after taking just one class, thanks to her vast experience in the field.
Taylor went on to meet her husband, James Myrtle Taylor, while working in Chicago, Illinois, before the couple moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where they established a practice together —after she taught James how to be a dentist. She practiced dentistry on and off until her death in 1910.
Dr. Ida Gray Nelson Rollins — Ida Gray Nelson Rollins set a new standard when she became the first African American female dentist. Born in Tennessee in 1867, a teenaged Rollins moved to Cincinnati to live with her aunt after the death of her mother. While there, Rollins worked at Dr. Taft’s dental office after school, picking up enough skill for Taft to encourage her to attend the University of Michigan’s College of Dental Surgery — where Taft was now the dean — in 1887. Rollins graduated from the program in 1890, becoming the first African American woman to earn a Doctorate of Dental Surgery.
After graduating, Rollins opened an office first in Cincinnati, where she met and married her first husband James Nelson, and then in Chicago. She gained notoriety in both cities for seeing both Black and white patients, and she even inspired a female patient, Olive M. Henderson, to follow in her footsteps. Henderson went on to become Chicago’s second African American female dentist.
Dr. M. Evangeline Jordon — M. Evangeline Jordon identified a gap in the world of dentistry and worked to provide services to children, setting the stage for what we now know as pedodontia. Just like Dr. Taylor, Jordon started out as a teacher, but it was her summers working as a dental assistant that inspired her to change careers. She attended the University of California, graduating in 1898, and soon began shifting her focus to the care of children.
Jordon lectured on the topic of children’s teeth and even created a kid’s clinic at California’s School of Dentistry. Eventually, she turned all her attention to pedodontia and began writing papers about the practice and championing specific techniques to address kids’ needs.
In 1921, Jordon worked with 11 other female dentists to found the American Association of Women Dentists. In 1924, she published the first book on pediatric dentistry written in English. Jordon also helped to create the American Society of Dentistry for Children and championed the oral health benefits of a good diet.
These are just four examples of the rich history of influential women in dentistry, but there are certainly many more women dentists who have helped shape the industry into what it is today!
To learn more about oral health, check out this blog on advancing children’s oral health.