Friday, March 16, 2012

Woman Who Pulls Teeth--Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, by Tanya Hanson

We all know everybody’s favorite huckleberry Doc Holliday was a dentist, but it was a baby girl, born Lucy Beaman Hobbs on March 14, 1833, in Constable, New York, who changed dental history.

At a time when a woman’s chief role was that of wife/mother/homemaker, Lucy’s only other choices were schoolmarm or nurse, proper but “spinsterish” occupations. But even as a little girl, Lucy Beaman Hobbs longed for the unexpected.

However, she caved a little bit, spending ten years in a Michigan classroom. But she always held tight to her dream of pursuing medical science.

Solely on the basis of her gender, the Eclectic College of Medicine in Cincinnati, Ohio rejected her in 1859. Nevertheless, one of the school’s professors gave her private lessons, and at his suggestion, she turned her interest to dentistry.

Again due to her gender, she could only pursue her dental studies as a private pupil. Fortunately, the dean of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery also took her under his wing. Later, she apprenticed herself to a graduate of the school. Again denied admission to the dental college --because of her gender -- she started her own practice in Cincinnati in the spring of 1861 when she was 28.

She later moved her practice to Bellevue, Iowa (1862) and thence to McGregor, Iowa (1862-1865). In time, she came to be known by what sounds a bit like a Native American soubriquet: "the woman who pulls teeth."

Interestingly, the Iowa State Dental Society accepted Lucy as a member in July 1865. Affirming that she had proven herself a worthy equal to male colleagues, the Society sent her as a delegate to the American Dental Association convention in Chicago that year. In November 1865, four years into her own dental practice, she was at last admitted to the senior class of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.

Due to her expertise as well as support from a small but devoted group of admirers, she earned her degree only a few months later, on February 21, 1866. Thus Lucy Hobbs became the first woman in the U.S. –and likely the world-- to earn a doctorate in dentistry.

While practicing in Chicago, she met Civil War veteran James M. Taylor, and married the railway maintenance worker in April 1867. Under his wife's guidance, James too became a dentist.

Late in 1867, the Doctors Taylor moved to the western town of Lawrence, Kansas, where they soon built a successful practice, focusing on women and children. Most patients referred to the highly-regarded dentist as “Dr Lucy.” After James’ death in 1886, she retired from most of her professional duties. However, she remained active in civic and political causes, most importantly the woman's suffrage movement.

Peers and citizens alike hailed her as a pioneer in opening the doors for more women in dentistry. By 1900, almost one thousand women were taking part in the profession.

During her career in Kansas, Dr. Taylor wrote, "I am a New Yorker by birth, but I love my adopted country -- the West. To it belongs the credit of making it possible for women to be recognized in the dental profession on equal terms with men."

This courageous, determined woman died in Lawrence on October 3, 1910 at the age of 77. In her obituary, she was recognized as "one of the most striking figures of Lawrence [who] occupied a position of honor and ability, and for years she occupied a place high in the ranks of her profession."

Coming soon: Book Five, Hearts Crossing Ranch series~Soul Food


  1. Wonderful post, Tanya -- what terrific research -- interesting --ouch! :)

  2. OMG is about all I could keep saying reading through your wonderful post, especially after seeing her tools of the trade. Holy cow, how could anyone walk into her office and not turn and run screaming out of the building? I had to show my hubby and he agreed. Maybe being toothless wouldn't be so bad... :)

  3. Great information and a true trail blazer for women.

    I agree with Paisley...I hate going to the dentist and if those were still their tools, I'd be toothless! LOL

    Wonderful post, Tanya!

  4. Tanya, what a great article--but it made my teeth tingle. Thank goodness dentistry has changed since Dr. Lucy was in practice. My own grandmother worked as assistant to a dentist when my mom was small. Grandmother made her own false teeth that she wore the rest of her life, that is, when they weren't in her aprin pocket. She kept them handy in case someone came to the door. ;-)

  5. This is so interesting, Tanya. I enjoyed reading about this woman and how she changed dentistry. Women were sometimes a lot more farsighted than men in the old West. I sure would've hated to have tooth problems and have to go to a barber to get fixed up. I'm sure they didn't know a whole lot.

  6. Ekkk! Those tools! But hoorary for Dr. Lucy. For the life of me, I don't know what anyone would want to be a dentist in those days, but you never know what interests people might have. And to begin an office devoted to women and children shows you just how much ahead of her time she is.
    Very good!

  7. WOW, Tanya...and OW! I am the world's biggest chicken when it comes to going to the dentist. Thank GOD I have good teeth, but my gums recede a little. My dentist is good, but he's always wanting to talk me into doing skin grafts on my gums. I WON'T do that!!!I can't bear the thought of it, and I'm not in any pain right now. I am amazed at the women of the west and the things they accomplished. Lucy had to really love what she was doing to undergo all the rejection and slighting through the years of her life, but she finally persevered! This is a great story, Tanya.

  8. Terrific post, Tanya. I love reading about women who blazed their own trails.

  9. Kay, I hear ya. My uncle was my dentist growing up, and I was always terrified going to his house. Thanks for thes post!

  10. Paty, I too love learning about interesting 19th century facts, especially the fearless women whomcame before. I don't know if I could have been so persistent.

  11. Hi Paisley, I so agree. If i had seen any those dental tools, I'd have run screaming to the ends the earth .I'm so glad she persevered though. Thanks for the post.

  12. Hi Caroline and everyone, sorry to be so I consistent in replies...I've been out of town for my niece's " high tea" bridal shower. It was a great hit...we used all of the lovely silver pieces and silver tea pots my mom received on their 25th wedding anniversary. gram also got dentures quite young. Those were tue days when dental care was just out of reach, I guess.

    Caroline and Linda thanks for posting today. Linda, I can't imagine why barbers were ever considered health care personnel. I remember Dr. Quinn and Jake the barber battling it out on Medicine Woman. Yikes.


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