5 Dental Figures to Celebrate Black History Month
The dental profession has been around for centuries (formally since about the 1700s). Thousands of researchers, hygienists, and doctors have contributed to the advancements of the industry and patient care along the way. But since February is Black History Month, we at Snodgrass-King Dental want to specifically honor and celebrate the people of color that have transformed the profession throughout its history. Some of these figures you may have heard of, others you may not have. Either way, they all deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated.
The First Black Dentist – Robert T. Freeman
Freeman developed an interest in dentistry at a young age and learned everything he knew in his early years from a mentor, Dr. Henry Bliss Noble. In fact, it was Noble who encouraged him to get formal training and pursue a professional career in dentistry. Robert applied to two dental schools prior to Harvard and was rejected because of the color of his skin. He was even rejected by Harvard initially until a petition by the school’s Dean was filed to end Harvard’s historical exclusion of minorities.
Following school, Freeman moved back to D.C. and opened his own practice. He served his community with the mission of extending dental treatment and education to the impoverished, disabled, and people of color. Unfortunately, a short four years after his graduation, in 1873 Robert Freeman passed away.
The First Black Female Dentist – Ida Nelson Rollins
Born in Tennessee, Rollins spent most of her childhood in the State of Ohio with her Aunt where she worked as a seamstress. But in high school, she met Dr. Jonathan Taft and he became her mentor for the next three years. Following high school, she had gained enough knowledge from working at Dr. Taft’s office and even more passion for the dental profession – she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
After receiving her Doctorate of Dental Surgery, Rollins opened her own practice in Cincinnati. She became the first African-American female to open a dental practice there and later on in Chicago as well. Ida cared for and served her communities for well over 30 years before retiring.
The First Black Faculty Member at Harvard – George F. Grant
George Franklin Grant became the second black dentist when he graduated from Harvard Dental School just one year after Robert Freeman. Similar to Freeman, Grant sparked an interest in dentistry from a young age. He worked for his hometown dentist growing up and worked as a dental assistant for two years before enrolling in the program at Harvard.
After earning his degree, Grant was hired by the University to continue his research and work on treating oral deformities, such as cleft palate. An inventor at heart, he patented a design for individual inserts that aided those with a cleft palate for eating and speaking.
After four years working at Harvard, Grant left and started his own practice. He continued following his dental and inventive passions. In 1899 he patented the first golf tee after picking up golf as a hobby in the early 80s.
The First Black Female Dentist & Author – Annie E. Delany
Most often referred to as Dr. Bessie, Annie Delany earned her doctorate degree in 1923 from the Columbia School of Dental and Oral Surgery. She became the second black female dentist to be licensed in the State of New York and eventually opened her own practice. Equally passionate about dentistry and civil rights, Dr. Bessie could be found treating people from all walks of life. She was especially known for providing free care for the poor and children.
In 1991, Annie and her sister Sadie were interviewed by a New York Times reporter after celebrating their 100th and 102nd birthday. They became a beloved duo with the newspaper’s readers and in 1993, they teamed up with the same reporter to co-write a book about their lives. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years sold millions of copies and maintained a spot on the New York Times paperback best-seller list for seventy-seven weeks.
The First Black Dentist in the Army – William T. Jefferson
William T. Jefferson became the first black dentist to treat U.S. Army soldiers during the Spanish-American War. His military career began in 1895 and he climbed many ranks during his time of service.
Jefferson had a mentor, Dr. Frederick B. Merrill, whom we began learning dentistry from before attending the American College of Dental Surgery in Chicago. He graduated from, what is now Northwestern University, in 1891 with his Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS).
It was documented that throughout his time in the military, Jefferson always found time to provide dental care for his regiment in addition to his military duties. Although he was never given the official title of Contract Dental Surgeon of the U.S. Army, his care and heroism remain a significant part of history.
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Snodgrass-King Dental Associates has 5 locations across Middle Tennessee (Mt. Juliet, Hermitage, Franklin, and Cool Springs). Contact us today to see if we can help jump-start and be a resource in your or your child’s healthy, dental lifestyle. We offer a variety of services for both children and adults. We can also address any orthodontic needs for children, teens, and adults. If you have any questions, call us today at (615) 771-1111.