IDA GRAY was the first black female dentist in the US. She was born in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1867. She became an orphan when her mother died in her early teens, after which she went to live with her aunt in Cincinnati. While Gray attended segregated public schools alongside her aunt’s three children, she also worked as a seamstress. Aside from attending school and work, she also found time to work in the dental offices of Jonathan Taft, an early advocate of training women as dentists.
Ida Gray’s Education and Practice
After three years working in Taft’s office, Gray had learned enough to pass the entrance examinations into the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry, where Jonathan Taft had previously served as the dean, and begin her studies in 1887. She graduated three years later, making her the first Black female dentist in the United States. After graduation, she returned to Cincinnati. There she opened her own office where she serviced patients of all races and was celebrated as a role model for women.
Continuing Career and Retirement
After marrying James Sanford Nelson, Gray moved her practice to Chicago, where she earned a reputation for her gentleness with pediatric patients and inspired another patient, Olive M. Henderson, to become the second Black female dentist in Chicago. She was heavily involved in her community and was active in the Professional Women’s Club of Chicago and part of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, a group that maintain the only black women’s shelter in Chicago. Gray continued practicing until her retirement in 1928. After the death of her first husband, she remarried William A. Rollins. She died in 1953 at 86 years old.
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