Skip to content Skip to navigation

Sindecuse Museum

Minority Women Dentists

Faith Leong in office with patient.

Faith Sai So Leong in her office with a patient. Photo courtesy of the collection of Edwin Owyang, MD and Eric Owyang, PharmD.

Being a minority and a woman required a strong work ethic, a sense of morality and decency, a willingness to ‘turn the other cheek’ and a sincere motivation to help those who are less fortunate and underprivileged.

Jeanne Sinkford, DDS, 1990.

Breaking Barriers

If women dentists faced a tough road because of their gender, imagine the additional difficulties faced by women of color. Although African American Ida Gray Nelson earned a dental degree from the University of Michigan in 1890, and Chinese immigrant Faith Sai So Leong (pictured at left) did so in 1905, most dental schools accepted few or no minority candidates until the mid-1970s.

Howard University and Meharry Medical College were notable exceptions. Founded as black institutions, they accepted women beginning in the late 1800s and have trained the majority of African American women dentists through today. Since it opened in 1881, the Howard University College of Dentistry has trained over 3,300 dental professionals.

Non-white communities have traditionally had poor access to white dentists or been served by a small number of minority dentists. Consequently, these underserved communities openly welcomed minority women dentists.

More Information

Check out these four impressive dentists, and learn more about the history of minority women in the University of Michigan's dental program: