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Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Ida Gray Nelson Rollins"(March 4 1867-May 3 1953.)

At a time when women were just beginning to be accepted into medical professions, Ida became the first African-American woman to earn a doctor of dental surgery degree when she graduated from
the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1890.She came from humble beginnings but a part-time job as an assistant in a dental office as a teenager served as a springboard for her 40-year career as a dentist.She began practicing in Cincinnati but later moved to Chicago when she married.Ida became the first black woman to practice denstry in Chicago.She was also very active in professional associations and women's clubs and she mentored other African-American women who wanted to pursue professional careers.She was born in Clarksville,Tennessee.Jennie gray died in her early teens when Ida was just an infant.Her father was a white man whose name is not known and he apparently did not play a significant part in Ida upbringing.After her mother died she was raised by a relative,Caroline Gray,who was a 35 year-old mother of three.Around 1868 Caroline moved to Cincinnati,Ohio,with her three children and Ida.Caroline was not able to read and write but she supported her family by working as a seamstress and housing foster children.The Gray children also worked to contribute to the family income.Caroline's oldest child,Howard was partially disabled but he occasionally worked as a stableman,porter,or night watchmann.The other two Gray children were Susan and Mary,who was the youngest and the same age as Ida.Ida and the other children attended segregated public schools in Cincinnati.During high school Ida worked as a seamtress and dress maker and as an office assistant in a dental office.The dental office in which she worked was run by Jonathan and William Taft.In addition to this private practice,Jonathan  was the cofounder and early president of the American Dental Association.He was a strong supporter of allowing women into the dental profession.In 1861 he mentored Lucy Hobbs Taylor in the skills of denstry.She had difficulty finding a dental school to accept her for her formal education,but she was finally admitted to the Ohio College of Dentistry in Cincinnati in 1866 and graduated in 1870.By this time there was 24 known women practicing dentistry in the United States,but Lucy became the woman to earn a dental degree in the country.When Ida was still in high school,Jonathan was working as the dean of the Ohio College of Dentistry and the editor of the Dental Register.In 1875 he became the first dean of the Dental College of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.Ida probably spent most of her time working for his brother William,but her acquaintance with Jonathan was instrumental for her career.Within three years after moving to the University of Michigan,Jonathan began admitting women into the Dental College.Ida graduated from Gaines Public high school in 1887,when she was 20 years old.She decided to pursue a career in denstry and Jonathan encouraged her to apply at the University of Michigan.Ida three years of practional experience in a dental office,which helped her pass mandatory extrance exam.She entered the University of Michigan dental school on October of 1887,two years after Sophia Bethena Jones became the first African-American woman admitted to that University's medical department.Ida received her doctor of dental surgery degree in June of 1890 becoming the first African-American woman to earn a dental degree in the United States.She was also only the 23rd woman to graduate from the dental school at the University of Michigan.It would be six more years before another African-American woman would earn a dental degree.Mary Imogene Williams became the second black woman to hold such a distinction when she graduated from Howard University's dental school in 1896.After earning her degree Ida returned to Cincinnati and opened a private practice on Ninth Street,where she stayed from 1890 to 1895.In march of 1895 Ida married James Sanford Nelson,a Spanish-American War veteran.James was born in Canada in 1860 and emigrated to the United States a decade later.He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the 1880s.He lived in Chicago where he served as the captain and quartermaster for the National Guard Eight Regiment.He worked as an account and later earned a law degree from the Chicago College of Law in 1897.Ida moved to Chicago with James in 1895 and set up a private practice at Armour Avenue and 35th Street.She was the first African-American woman dentist to practice in the city of Chicago.In 1898 she moved her office into her home on South State Street.Ida moved both her home to Wabash Avenue in 1903.She had a very diverse clientele,serving men and women of all races and ages.She was especially kind to children and served as a role model for many of her young patients.Most notably she mentored one of her patients,Olive M.Henderson,who became the second female African-American dentist in Chicago.Ida graduated from Northwestern University Dental School in 1912.Aside from mentoring,Ida was also active in many women's organizations  in Chicago.In particular she served as the vice president of the Professional Women's Club of Chicago.Her first husband,James,died on March 11, 1926.Three years later she married William A.Rollins,a waiter.Ida retired from dentistry in the 1930s and continued to live in Chicago,she maintained a summer home in Idlewild,Michigan,which was a popular resort area for black professionals.Her second husband on June,20 1944,from injuries sustained in a car accident.She remained widowed for the rest of her life and she nrver had any children with either of her husbands.She died in Chicago.

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