This article originally appeared as a cover story in the March 2015 issue of ASDA News. At the time, Laura Albarracin was her chapter’s legislative liaison. To read more from ASDA’s print publication, Contour, click here.
Before the 1970s, dentistry was a male-dominated profession. Women were not admitted to dental school solely based on gender. However, this did not stop determined people from breaking stereotypes. That decade marked a time when the world was changing. Two catalytic moments were the women’s liberation and civil rights movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. This movement resulted in an increase in federal grants, which led way to an increase of female enrollments in professional health schools. According to an article written by Dr. Lynn D. Carlisle on Spiritofcaring.com, the women of the 1970s used this moment to forever change the landscape of the medical and dental fields.
Fast-forward more than 40 years. The same determination and courage has flourished in women of this decade. According to the ADA’s Survey of Dental Education Report in 2012-2013, nearly 47 percent of predoctoral dental students were women, compared with only 1 percent in 1970. In addition, more than 46 percent of the graduating classes of 2012 were female. In a 2005 Dental Economics article, Dr. Eric Solomon wrote that it is projected by the year 2020, more than 30 percent of all dental practitioners in the United States will be women.
The profession’s gender shift owes a debt to the pioneer women of dentistry, especially the one to hold the honor of being the first woman in the world to graduate from an accredited dental college: Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor.
Lucy B. Hobbs was born in upstate New York on March 14, 1833, the seventh of 10 children. Orphaned at age 12, she worked various jobs before turning to the medical field. After being rejected from the Eclectic College of Medicine because of her sex, according to an article in the June 2002 issue of the Journal of the California Dental Association, Hobbs studied privately under one of the school’s professors. It was this same professor who turned her to dentistry. Still, her pursuit of dentistry proved to be just as difficult. She studied privately under the dean of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery until working as an apprentice with Dr. Samuel Wardle, a recent graduate from the dental college. In later years Hobbs credited Dr. Wardle with “the honor of making it possible for women to enter the profession.” Months later, Hobbs applied and was rejected from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery. She briefly opened a practice in Ohio but was forced to close it due to the American Civil War.
Hobbs relocated to Iowa and opened yet another dental practice. Her reputation grew throughout the state and before long she was elected to active membership and invited into the Iowa State Dental Society. She was then sent as a delegate to the American Dental Association, the first woman to receive this position. With their support, she reapplied and matriculated into the same dental college that had rejected her previously. Graduating after just one session on Feb. 21, 1866, Hobbs became the first woman to earn a DDS degree. She later went on to practice in Kansas, alongside her husband, Dr. Lawrence Taylor, as Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor until her retirement in 1866. She died on Oct. 3, 1910 at the age of 77.
In memory of Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor and all her accomplishments, Benco Dental founded the Lucy Hobbs Project. This project empowers women who yearn to be a catalyst that drives change and delivers success in dentistry. They host various networking events and assemble innovation teams tasked to discover new ideas, services and products. They also provide various opportunities to give back to the community. Each year, the project honors exemplary women in dentistry who have shown determination and leadership, much like Lucy Hobbs.
The efforts put forth in the 1800s by Hobbs and others have set the standards for women dentists today. Dentistry is in a period of renovation. The population is aging and becoming more diverse. It seems only logical that their health care providers change with them. Women are becoming more prominent not only as new dental graduates but as leaders in the profession. This leadership was first seen by the start of the Women’s Dental Association in 1892 with 12 members. These members hosted their first all-women meeting in 1921 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the ADA Annual Session. It wasn’t until 1991 that the American Dental Association elected its first female president, Dr. Geraldine Morrow. Since then, women have become trustees, committee members and much more.
According to a 2004 article in Dental Economics titled “Women in Dentistry,” women in a fourth-year survey conducted in the early 2000s were more likely than men to have plans to pursue postgraduate education (45 percent vs. 33 percent), more likely than men to report that they had a mentor in dental school (55 percent vs. 44 percent) and more likely to report that their mentor encouraged them to pursue postgraduate education. The future for women in dentistry seems increasingly promising and, as long as dentistry keeps evolving, so will the role of women in it.
~Laura Albarracin, Baylor ’17