I Am Woman…Hear Us Roar…And See Us Do Teeth!

Today we officially celebrate the beginning of Women’s History Month and as we mentioned in an earlier post this week, where we examined the remarkable life of Edith Houghton, we will take a look at some of the noteworthy accomplishments of women in Dentistry.

In 2013, seeing a female Dentist in an office like The Smile Center could be considered quite the everyday occurrence, but that was not always the case. The history of women in Dentistry can be traced across the globe and back for hundreds of years…all the way back to 1523, in fact!

In an early copper engraving by the fine Dutch engraver Lucas Van Leyden, a traveling Dentist can be seen along with a woman acting as his assistant. Unfortunately, women seem to disappear from the annals of Dental history for the next few hundred years until 1852, when their presence really began to be felt. At this point, the Europeans took the lead in recognizing the fact that women could indeed skillfully practice the art of Dentistry.

Sweden first opened this door to Amalia Assur who received special permission from the Royal Board of Health to independently practice Dentistry in 1852, even though the profession had not yet been legally opened to women. We like to think her success led the way to formal recognition of female Dentists in 1861 by Sweden.

During the intervening period, the United States also made strides when Emeline Roberts Jones became the first woman to enter the Dental profession in 1855. Although she learned her skills under the tutelage of her husband, Dr. Daniel Jones, he did not believe that Dentistry was a “suitable” profession for a woman and resisted until she took the initiative to secretly practice extractions and fillings. At that point, she began to practice alongside her spouse and continued independently after his death in 1864. She worked in both Connecticut and Rhode Island, eventually establishing a private practice in New Haven, Connecticut which grew to one of the largest and most financially profitable in the state.

Emeline Roberts Jones continued to practice until her retirement in 1915, earning a place on the Woman’s Advisory Council of the World’s Columbian Dental Congress in 1893 and honorary memberships in the Connecticut State Dental Society and the American Dental Association. Almost 80 years after her death in 1916 at the age of 80, Emeline Roberts Jones was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

While Emeline was blazing her trail in Connecticut, 1866 represented a watershed year for some other women in Dentistry. In Sweden and the United States, two women were traveling seemingly parallel paths into the Dental world. After three tries — and three archaic attempts to block her entry into Dentistry — in 1866 Rosalie Fougelberg received a royal dispensation from Swedish King Charles XV and became the first woman to officially practice Dentistry once the profession had been opened to both genders in 1861.

Meanwhile, across the ocean in the same year, Lucy Hobbs Taylor successfully completed her course of Dental studies at Ohio Dental College to become the first woman to graduate from a Dental school. And the floodgates were opened!

In 1869, a German woman named Henriette Hirschfeld-Tiburtius became the first woman to complete a full Dental curriculum — as Lucy Hobbs Taylor received college credit for her previous work in Dentistry toward her degree — and Dr. Hirschfeld-Tiburtius graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery with a full D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) designation. She practiced in the United States for a period but eventually returned to her native Germany where she paved the way for other women as the first female Dentist in that country.

The march of women into Dentistry continued boldly forward worldwide:

  • Margarita Chorné y Salazar joining the ranks as Mexico’s first woman Dentist in 1886.
  • Ida Gray Rollins opened the door for African-American women as a Dental graduate from the University of Michigan in 1890 — just a few decades after the Civil War!
  • Lilian Lindsay became the first licensed female Dentist in Great Britain in 1895 and went on to become quite the noted Dental historian.
  • Another of the British Empire holdings shortly followed suit, when Emma Gaudreau Casgrain joined her suffragette sisters in 1898 as that country’s first licensed woman Dentist.
  • Less than a decade later, another British Colony recognized the role of women in Dentistry when Frances Dorothy Gray became Australia’s first female Bachelor of Dental Science graduate from the Australian College of Dentistry, University of Melbourne, in 1907.

The list could continue on for many more pages — and we might revisit more recent women Dental “firsts” later this month since we will be celebrating Women’s History Month for all of March. But, it does give us pause to consider that less than 200 years ago, virtually no place existed for women in the Dental profession and now we have grown to into the tens of thousands across the country!

To see a few of these fine female Dentists in action, all you have to do is just visit one of your convenient, neighborhood offices of The Smile Center! Join us in saluting the accomplishments of women everywhere this month and let us open some more pathways — and smiles — for the “gentler gender!”

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