Lucy Hobbs-The First Female Dentist

Lucy Beaman Hobbs Taylor was born on March 14, 1833 in Constable (Franklin County), New York at a time in our nation’s history when the expected role of women was narrowly limited to motherhood or to a typically “spinsterish” occupation such as teacher or nurse.

Even early in her life, however, Lucy showed little interest in doing the expected. She taught school for 10 years in Michigan but held a steadfast ambition to pursue advanced medical study. In 1859 she moved to Cincinnati. Because of her gender, she was turned down for admission to the (by today’s standards oddly misnamed) Eclectic College of Medicine, but this did not stop her from taking up private studies with one of the school’s professors. At his suggestion, she turned to dentistry. Again becoming a private pupil, she pursued this profession under the guidance of the dean of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery and later apprenticed herself to a graduate of the school. After being refused admission to the dental college — again because of her gender — she opened her own practice at the age of 28 in Cincinnati in the spring of 1861. She later moved her practice to Bellevue, Iowa (1862) and thence to McGregor, Iowa (1862-1865). In time, she came to be known by what sounded like a translated Native American name — “the woman who pulls teeth.”

In July 1865, as an indication that Lucy had proven herself a worthy equal to her male colleagues, the Iowa State Dental Society accepted her as a member and in fact sent her as a delegate to the American Dental Association convention in Chicago. In November 1865, after serving patients for four years in her own dentistry practice, she was admitted to the senior class of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.

Receiving credit for her years of professional practice from a small but devoted group of admirers, she earned her degree only a few months later, in February 1866. Lucy Hobbs thus became the first woman in U.S. (and probably world) history to earn a doctorate in dentistry. While later practicing in Chicago, she met and married Civil War veteran and railway maintenance worker James M. Taylor in April 1867. Under his wife’s guidance, he too became a dentist.

Late in 1867, the Doctors Taylor moved to the western town of Lawrence, Kansas, where they soon established a large and successful practice. Although the Taylors themselves did not become parents, much of their practice focused on women and children. Many patients referred to the highly respected woman as “Dr. Lucy.” After her husband’s death in 1886, she retired from most of her professional duties but remained active in civic and political causes, including the woman’s suffrage movement. She gained recognition by her peers and fellow citizens as a pioneer in opening the doors for women to dentistry. By the turn of the century, almost one thousand women were welcomed to the profession — a sign of immense progress for which Lucy Hobbs Taylor could take considerable credit.

Of her career in Kansas, Dr. Taylor wrote, “I am a New Yorker by birth, but I love my adopted country — the West. To it belongs the credit of making it possible for women to be recognized in the dental profession on equal terms with men.”

This courageous and determined pioneer died in Lawrence on October 3, 1910 at the age of 77. In her obituary in the local Lawrence newspaper, she was recognized as “one of the most striking figures of Lawrence [who] occupied a position of honor and ability, and for years she occupied a place high in the ranks of her profession.”

Since 1983, the American Association of Women Dentists has recognized outstanding females in the profession by annually bestowing the Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award. The AAWD describes this honor as “the highest and most prestigious award that the AAWD presents to one of its professional members. This award recognizes a woman dentist who has contributed to the advancement, enrichment, and betterment of the role of women in the field of dentistry through her achievements in civic, cultural, humanitarian and academic areas.”

Interestingly, the Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award for the year 2000 was presented in Chicago on October 15, the day following the opening of this exhibit in Lawrence to donors and guests. The winner that year was Dr. Barbara Mousel. This date also falls very near the date of Lucy Hobbs Taylor’s passing (October 3) and near the birthday of Vance Roberts (October 11). Additional websites providing information about Taylor can be found through a search of her name in the Google search engine.

*From the Kansas State Historical Website