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Sindecuse Museum

Controversy: Supporters and Detractors


It is only when … she has lost all maternal instincts, and determined to destroy all that tends to make her lovely and lovable to man—only when she has become a man hater—should she turn to the vocation of man for a support, and become a competitor with him in the great struggle for existence.

W.R. Spencer, 1889. Read our profile of Jennie Kollock Hilton to see her response to Spencer.


The practice for ladies, and especially for children, is just the field for lady practitioners in dentistry. In it they can do much better than men, and it ought in the main to be done by women. There have been fifteen ladies graduated in our dental college, and I am proud of them all.

Jonathan Taft, ca. 1887. Learn more about Taft below.
George R. Thomas

George R. Thomas

President, Michigan Dental Association
(1872-1873 and 1876-1878)

“Complete Failure of Health:” George R. Thomas, a graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, was an early skeptic of women dentists. He did not believe women were physically capable of performing lengthy oral surgeries. Thomas wrote, “it is an impracticable idea for women to enter the practice of dentistry. The constrained position the operator is obliged to assume, and continue in for hours together, would, doubtless, under certain circumstances, prove very disastrous and perhaps fatal to a female operator.” Photo from the collection of the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, SMD 845.1.

Jonathan Taft

Jonathan Taft (1820-1903)

Dean, Ohio College of Dental Surgery (1858-1875)
Founding Dean, University of Michigan College of Dental Surgery (1875-1903)

Women Are Suited for Dentistry: Jonathan Taft was an early and consistent supporter of women dentists. He admitted Lucy Hobbs to the Ohio College of Dental Surgery where she became the first woman graduate of any dental program in 1866. Beginning in 1880, women were in nearly every dental class at the University of Michigan. In 1890, Dean Taft admitted Ida Gray—the first African American woman to receive a degree in dentistry—to the University of Michigan. Photo from the collection of the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, SMD 309.150.

James Truman

James Truman (1826-1914)

Dean, Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery

A Tradition of Liberal Thought: James Truman’s Quaker background may have encouraged his open mind toward women dentists. Both as professor and dean at the Pennsylvania College of Dentistry, Truman supported women students, considering it “a duty to attempt to open the way for her entrance into practice.” Even before women applied to the college, Truman said in his 1866 commencement address, “Talent is of no sex, color or clime… Let your daughters enter the professions or anything they can earn a livelihood at…” Photo courtesy of Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.