Science, Inventions, Medicine, and Aerospace

Black Women in Medicine

Who was the first black woman dentist?

In 1890 Ida Gray Nelson Rollins (1867–1953) became the first black woman to earn a doctor of dental surgery degree in the United States. She graduated from the University of Michigan in June. Nelson Rollins was born in Clarksville, Tennessee. Her family arranged for her to live in Cincinnati with a relative, Caroline Gray. Around 1860 she worked in the office of Jonathan Taft, a local dentist of prominence who had supported women in the dental profession. When he became dean of the Dental Department at the University of Michigan, he maintained his office in Cincinnati and thus kept in touch with Nelson Rollins. Taft encouraged her to apply to the dental school, knowing that her experience in his office would help her to pass the entrance examinations. She enrolled in October 1887 and graduated in June 1890, then returned to Cincinnati where she established a dental practice. There she served all races and ages, women and men. After she married in 1895, she moved to Chicago and opened an office there. Although sources give conflicting information, she appears to be the first black woman to establish a dental practice in Chicago.


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