First female dentist in the United States

Published 7:45 am Wednesday, March 27, 2024

By Gene Hays
MSgt. USMC (Ret)

In 2001, only 16 percent of all licensed dentists working in the United States were female. By 2022, this share had risen to around 37 percent. 

This statistic shows the distribution of licensed dentists working in the U.S. from 2001 to 2022, by gender. Conversely there are over 59,611 dental hygienists currently employed in the United States. 93.1% of all dental hygienists are women, while 6.9% are men. 

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Surprisingly, if a female explained that she was the hygienist and not a new dentist, patients were okay with it.

Enter Lucy Beaman Hobbs, 1833-1886, known for being the first woman to graduate from dental school (Ohio College of Dental Surgery in 1866) in the United States.

Hobbs graduated from Franklin Academy in New York and began teaching for 10 years in Michigan. In 1859, she moved to Cincinnati and applied to medical school at Eclectic Medical College. 

Hobbs was denied entrance because of her gender, but she was able to study privately under the supervision of a teacher from Eclectic. Subsequently, Hobbs applied to the Ohio College of Dentistry. When she was refused admission to dental school, she began a private program of study with a professor, Jonathan Taft, from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.

Hobbs applied once more to the dentistry program but was again rejected. As a response, she opened her own practice, allowing her to practice dentistry without having to obtain a diploma.

After studying dentistry, she started her own practice in Cincinnati in 1861. She soon moved to Bellevue and then McGregor, Iowa, where she spent three years. In 1865, she finally gained professional recognition and was allowed to join the Iowa State Dental Society and was sent as a delegate to the American Dental Association convention in Chicago. 

That November, she entered the Ohio College of Dental Surgery as a senior, where on February 21, 1866, she earned her doctorate in dentistry, becoming the first woman in the world to graduate from a dental college, and to receive a doctorate in dentistry.

Hobbs moved to Chicago, where she met James M. Taylor, whom she married in April 1867. Hobbs then convinced her husband to also enter dentistry. The two then moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where they had a large and successful practice until he died in 1886.

After her husband’s death, she ceased to be an active dentist, but became more active in politics, campaigning for greater women’s rights, until her own death on October 3, 1910. 

By 1900, almost one thousand women had followed Lucy Taylor into dentistry, an increase many attribute to her accomplishments. 

In 1983, the American Association of Women Dentists honored Taylor by establishing the Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award, which it now presents annually to AAWD members in recognition of professional excellence and achievements in advancing the role of women in dentistry. 

Gene Hays is an author and historian and has several books on Contact: