As we celebrate National Women’s History Month, we want to recognize women who made history in the world of dentistry. Women could not practice dentistry until the mid-1800s. Through hard work, powerful wills, and determination, these are some of the women who changed everything. The women who said yes, when the world said no.
The Very First
The very first woman ever to practice dentistry was Amalia Assur, in 1852. In Sweden, dentistry was illegal for women, but they gave her special permission to practice independently. Sweden’s law wasn’t changed until 1861, by then Emeline Roberts Jones had come on the scene in America.
Emeline Roberts Jones
Emeline became the first American woman to practice dentistry in 1855. She had married Dr. Daniel Jones, a dentist himself, who refused to let her study. People believed women’s hands were unsuitable for dentistry. They believed women to have clumsy and frail hands that could not successfully work in that capacity. 19-year-old Emeline refused to be dissuaded, and she secretly studied and practiced. She filled and extracted hundreds of teeth, proving women could in fact be successful dentists. When her husband discovered what she’d been doing, he let her practice alongside him. At the young age of 23, Dr. Jones made her his partner. After her husband passed away, Emmeline continued to practice while raising their two children alone. She was deeply respected as a talented dentist. Emeline would encourage many women to follow their dreams and not be held back by other people’s limited vision.
Lucy Hobbs Taylor
11 years later, at the Ohio Dental College, Lucy Hobbs Taylor would become the first woman to receive a doctorate in dentistry. Passionate and enthusiastic, Lucy applied to both the Ohio Dental College and the Eclectic Medical College. They both refused her because she was a woman, so Lucy tried another approach. She contacted Dr. Jonathan Taft, a Professor at the Ohio Dental College, and asked him to teach her. He agreed, and she began practicing dentistry in 1861. In 1866, when the gender policies were changed, Lucy became the first woman to walk away with her Doctorate in Dentistry. She not only inspired women but also her husband, who later became a dentist. For 20 years, the two of them worked side by side in their joint dentistry practice.
Ida Gray was an African American woman whose unstoppable passion and determination overcame incredible barriers. This was a woman who worked tremendously hard, and the fruits of her labor are still widely admired. Born in the South, and an orphan, Ida was forced to attend segregated schools. She later made her way to a Chicago High School and would also meet Dr. Jonathan Taft. Dr. Taft agreed to teach her, and in 1887 she attended the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and graduated in 1890. When she opened her own practice, she became well known for treating people of all races and an inspiration to many. In fact, one of her patients, Olive M. Henderson, was so inspired, she became the second African American woman to practice dentistry.
While these are just a few of the trailblazing women who have helped shape history, many others have and continue to influence our future. We owe enormous reverence to the rebel women of the past who refused to back down. Who fought to open closed doors, and remind all of that yes, women can. With deep respect and humble thanks, we honor you all.