Ida Gray Nelson (Rollins)
DDS 1890 University of Michigan College of Dentistry
First African-American Woman Dentist
Ida Gray worked in the dental office of Jonathan Taft while attending a segregated public high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. Taft, dean at the University of Michigan’s dental school, was a vital early supporter of women dentists and encouraged her to apply to the University of Michigan.
The three years’ experience in Taft’s dental office helped her pass the entrance exam. She earned exemplary marks in dental school. Ida Gray is pictured above in her 1890 graduation photo. Image from the collection of the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, University of Michigan SMD 292.1890.
First African-American Woman Dentist in Chicago
While working in Cincinnati, Ida Gray married James S. Nelson. They moved to Chicago where she practiced in an African-American neighborhood. Her later clientele included all races.
Nelson was a mentor and role model for her patients. One patient, Olive M. Henderson, became the second African-American dentist in Chicago. After Nelson’s husband died in 1926, she retired in 1928 and married William Rollins the following year.