American professional women have not only the joy of trained minds and skillful hands, but the opportunity to serve greater than has ever before been known.DeLan Kinney, DDS, War Service Committee, Medical Women’s National Association, 1918.
Determined to Serve
By the beginning of the 20th century, American women dentists were poised and eager to serve, but military policy only accepted women as nurses. Despite repeated requests during both World Wars, women dentists were consistently denied the opportunity to use their expertise and experience to serve their country. There were brief exceptions as determined women found inventive ways to work around this obstacle, but it wasn’t until 1949 that Congress finally approved women as medical professionals—including dentistry—in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
The Armed Forces now offer a Health Professions Scholarship Program that covers virtually all dental school expenses and provides clinical opportunities at military bases around the world. In return, recruits serve four years of active duty or eight years in the Reserves. According to a Michigan recruiter, half of all those using the scholarship are women.
Treating Allied Civilians
Before the U.S. entered WWI, American Women’s Hospitals cared for soldiers, families, refugees and orphans in Allied countries. Separate from the military, they were staffed by professionals such as dental surgeon Marie J. Hyman, who worked in one hospital in 1918. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
Serving However They Can
A Red Cross dentist treats a patient at Base Hospital No. 53 in Portsmouth, England during WWI. When Sophie Nevin, another Red Cross dentist, offered to serve an Engineer Regiment stationed in France, the base surgeon rebuffed her even though there were no dentists assigned to the unit. Photo courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.
Navy Dental Corps Top Dog
Rear Admiral Elaine C. Wagner (DDS 1980 Indiana University) specialized in pediatric dentistry before joining the Marine Corps in 1983. She held leadership positions around the world, and was appointed chief of the Navy Dental Corps, its highest position, in 2010. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.