We celebrate women and the immense and immeasurable contributions they’ve made to humanity and society on a daily basis at Bedford Dental Group, but we’d also like to give women a shout throughout Women’s History Month. Women have come a long way — we nearly witnessed a female president not too long ago, but before this they’ve also been among the unsung heroes of our wars, important literary figures, judges of the supreme court, scientists, and physicians. Women have also been important figures in dentistry. In this entry we’ll talk about some of the women who helped shaped the dental industry.
Early histories of dentistry fail to mention women’s contribution to the field, so it’s hard to say exactly who the first female dentist was, but the first on record is Dr. Emeline Roberts Jones, said to most likely be the first woman to practice dentistry in the US. She was married to a dentist and would practice tooth extractions with him. She would then become his assistant in 1855. Often patients preferred her work over her husband’s! Despite this, Jones stayed her husband’s assistant until his death in 1864. As a widow, she ended up setting out on her own in New Haven, Connecticut, building a respectable practice. In 1893, Dr. Emeline Roberts Jones was appointed member of the Women’s Advisory Council of the World’s Columbian Dental Congress, and in 1912 Jones was awarded an honorary membership to the Connecticut Dental Society.
Lucy B. Hobbs Taylor is actually credited with being the first woman to graduate from a dental college. She fought an uphill battle for most of her life, fighting to become an assistant to a Dr. Wardel of Cincinnati who took her in and gave her an equal opportunity to his other male students. She practiced in Iowa, and then based on this experience had her colleagues refer her to the Ohio Dental College, which she graduated from in 1866, earning her dental degree. We’re glad she did, setting a precedent for a new generation to come.
Despite early trailblazers like Jones and Hobbs, a female dentist would still recall that they often heard patients tell them that they were the first woman dentist they’d seen, even into the 1970s and 1980s. In those days twenty percent would be a high percentage of women to see in a graduating class from a dental program. In 1978, there was about a 15.9% of first year dental school attendees, according to the ADA Health Policy Institute. Just a decade before that, in 1968, 1.1% of dental students were female, which is hard to believe. In 2014 the percentage had grown at 47.7%.
Women continue to push forward, but “there is still a need for female [leadership] development,” said Carol Gomez Summerhays, former ADA President (2015-16). It’s important that women continue to pursue leadership roles in the field of dentistry. Before Summerhays assumed the role, Maxine Feinberg served as ADA President as well. We look forward to women taking having a larger and wider influence in the field of dentistry as we move into a future without boundaries.
As women continue to rise in important fields of expertise, fields such as dentistry, they continue to have our unwavering support at Bedford Dental Group, changing the field and the industry in ways that men cannot. For our female patients, if you’re interested in learning more about pursuing dental school, we’d be happy to offer our expertise in any way that we can provide. Just make sure to ask us about it during your next check up!