Today, many prominent dental professionals are female. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, it wasn’t until 1866 that the first woman earned the title of Doctor of Dental Surgery. That honorific belongs to Lucy Beaman Hobbs, the very first licensed female dentist.
Becoming the First Woman Dentist
Hobbs was born in New York on March 14, 1833. When she was 12, she obtained a job as a seamstress to support her siblings. Four years later, she moved to Michigan and spent ten years as a teacher. During this time, she boarded with a physician and became interested in medicine.
In 1859, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and applied to medical school at Eclectic Medical College. Hobbs was rejected because of her gender, but a teacher from Eclectic was impressed with her so let her study privately under his supervision. Eventually, they decided she should consider dentistry.
Hobbs applied to the Ohio College of Dentistry. Once again, she was rejected because she was a woman. She began a private program of study with a professor from the school, Jonathan Taft. Hobbs applied once more to the dentistry program and was refused admittance yet again. As a response, she opened her own office, allowing her to practice dentistry without having to obtain a diploma – a common practice at the time.
An Untraditional Path to a Degree
Hobbs opened her practice in 1861 in Iowa. Within three years, she had developed a strong reputation, and her dental office was profitable. In 1865, the Iowa State Dental Society let Hobbs become a member, stating, “The profession has nothing in its pursuits foreign to the instincts of women.”
In addition to admitting Hobbs to the organization, the Iowa State Dental Society convinced the Ohio College of Dental Surgery to open its doors to Hobbs and let her attend as a student. The College recognized her successful years of practice and only made her attend a single session. She graduated in 1866, becoming the first woman to become a licensed dentist.
Eventually, Hobbs began a dental practice in Chicago and married a Civil War veteran named James M. Taylor. Hobbs taught her husband dentistry and the two eventually created a practice together in Lawrence, Kansas.
Hobbs continued practicing dentistry throughout her life while also regularly participating in Women’s Right campaigns. She was still practicing dentistry at the time of her death at age 77.
The Legacy of Lucy Hobbs Taylor
In 1983, the American Association of Women Dentists honored her by establishing the Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award. The award is presented annually to AAWD members in recognition of professional excellence and achievements in advancing the role of women in dentistry.
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