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Sindecuse Museum

Are Women Fit for Dentistry?

Bessie Hutchinson, front row, in class at the University of Michigan College of Dental Surgery, 1897. SMD 652.126a.

Bessie Hutchinson, front row, in class at the University of Michigan College of Dental Surgery, 1897. SMD 652.126a.

Capable in Every Way

During the 19th century, women’s career options were extremely limited and dentistry was no exception. Women were expected to be in the home tending to husband and children. Medicine and dentistry were considered particularly inappropriate as it was believed that women should not be exposed to the indelicacies of human anatomy.

Professional men were especially resistant to viewing women as equals in what had been male-dominated fields. Fortunately, deans of two dental colleges provided critical early support to counter opposition by all-male faculty. Women dentists also found an acceptable niche as their nurturing qualities were considered ideally suited to treating women and children.
 

Women can accomplish good work and I have observed they are always above men in their class. This is accounted for in that she is self-reliant. Women know they will meet opposition, and prepare for it; they determine to succeed…and will be a means of elevating the profession.

Jonathan Taft, 1890.

More Information

Read more about some trail-blazing female dentists, as well as the forward-thinking men who supported women in the profession:

 

Breaking the Barrier

I don’t think many of my professional brethren like it much that the females have crept into their privileges, but I can’t help the poor fellows, they will have to get used to it.

Henriette Hirschfeld, circa 1886.

Henriette Hirschfeld (1834-1911)
DDS 1869 Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery

The first woman to complete a full academic dental program was from Germany. Unable to obtain a degree in Europe, Hirschfeld went to the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery.

When the faculty refused to admit her, Dr. James Truman supported Hirschfeld and arranged for her to study anatomy at the nearby Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia.

After graduating, she practiced in Germany where she also supported women doctors, helping to establish a women’s clinic and hospital.