African American Women In Dentistry Make History
Long considered the “founder” of African American women in dentistry, Ida Gray Rollins was the first woman in the United States to graduate from dental school. In 1890, Rollins, who was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, before moving with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio, graduated with a doctor of dental surgery degree from the University of Michigan Dental School, practiced dentistry in Cincinnati. She would become the first African American woman to practice dentistry in Chicago and mentored other African American women in dentistry before her death in 1953.
Rollins was a legend in her time. “Early on there weren’t many women in the dental field,” says Scott D. Swank, DDS, curator of the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore. “Not only was it difficult to be an African American dentist, but women faced the additional hurdle of trying to enter a male-dominated profession.”
Since Rollins entered the field, African American women in dentistry have made some notable strides, writes Clifton O. Dummett, DDS, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in Los Angeles, in his essay, Dentistry in the African American Community.
For example, writes Dr. Dummett, in 1991, the popular bestseller Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters' First Hundred Years brought national celebrity to Bessie Delaney, DDS, a 1923 graduate of Columbia University Dental School, and her public-school-teacher sister. The book served as the basis for a 1995 Broadway play and a 1999 two-hour television presentation on CBS.
Rosalie Reddick Miller was the first African American woman to become a dentist in Washington state. Miller, who was raised in Georgia as the daughter of a dentist, was one of the only women in her exam room when she studied at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. She received her Georgia state dental license in 1951. She moved to Seattle to practice dentistry and also served as the director of dental programs for the Community Health Board of Model Cities — a program to help low-income families get better health care.
Other notable African American women in dentistry include Jeanne C. Sinkford, DDS, PhD, the first African American female dean of the Howard University College of Dentistry; Eugenia Mobley McGinnis, DDS, MPH, the first black female dentist to earn a degree in public health and the second female dean of a U.S. dental school; Cynthia Hodge, DMD, MPA, associate dean of the University of Connecticut; Juliann Bluitt, DDS, former associate dean at Northwestern University Dental School and the first female president of the prestigious American College of Dentists; and Marsha Butler, DDS, director of Global Oral Health Improvement at Colgate-Palmolive, according to Dummett.