Lucy Hobbs Taylor: Remember to Floss…

MarryingMinda Crop to UseNot only did the movie Marathon Man instill in me great appreciation for a decent dentist, but also my uncle Albert, my godfather. He started me well on my way to proper oral hygiene when I was five. He had a gentle touch, but I was always in a cold sweat whenever we went to his house for Thanksgiving.  I was certain he had a secret dental chair and appropriate torture devices hidden in the pool house. 

Well, that said, 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.Lucy_hobbs_taylor

 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.Antique dental tools 

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.”Lucy Hobbs 2 

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 and to 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 thus became the first woman in the U.S. –and likely the world– to earn a doctorate in dentistry. antique dental tools 2

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. Lucy Hobbs Taylor home and office

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.” She and James did not have children of their own, and after his 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. Suffragettes, Lawrence, KS

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.” 

antique dental bookletLucy Hobbs 3

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.”Lucy Hobbs gravestone

 Since I am by nature a weenie, I can hardly describe my admiration for the strong pioneering women who came before,   whose struggles and challenges have made a better world for me, for my daughter—and my son, too. During their childhood, my kids had a female dentist, a female pediatrician, and our pets were cared for by a female veterinarian. Pretty cool, no? 

I don’t dare ask for comments today about your dental experiences, but I’d sure love to hear about the strong women   you admire, and why.

Tanya Hanson
A California beach girl, I love cowboys and happy-ever-afters. My firefighter hubby and I enjoy travel, our two little grandsons, country music, McDonald's iced coffee, and volunteering at the local horse rescue. I was thrilled last year to receive the CTRR Award at Coffeetime Romance for Sanctuary, my tribute to my cancer-survin' hubby!
Updated: February 25, 2010 — 1:40 pm

52 Comments

  1. Hi Tanya! I looked at those instruments and gave thanks for novacaine. What an amazing woman! Tooth pain really is awful. As miserable as treatment can be–and certainly was back then–it’s such a relief when it’s over.

    Let’s see, other strong women I admire . . . My mom is at the top of the list. She was amazing 🙂

  2. As someone whose mouth is a dental museum I can only cringe at the sight of those old instruments. My grandmother used to be the family tooth-puller. If one of us kids had a loose tooth, we hid from her.
    Like Vicki B., I place my mom at the top of my admired women list. She taught school for 45 years, kept a beautiful home, made all our clothes including my dance costumes, and carried on an inspiring 64+ year love affair with my dad.
    Thanks for a great blog, Tanya.

  3. Tanya,
    Thanks for the great blog. I love reading about women who refused to accept the dictates of society. We don’t have to travel back to the 1800s to find pioneering women. It wasn’t that long ago, for example, that newscasters were all men. The battle continues today.Kathryn Bigelow may be the first female director to win an Oscar and I’m rooting for her. Still I wonder, had she not used her considerable talents to make a war movie if she would even have a chance.

  4. Great post, Tanya

  5. Great post very interesting. Blessings.

  6. Tanya,

    I learned alot from this post. The old instruments makes you be thankful for modern ones.
    Thanks for sharing this post

    I admire all Native Americans. The wisdom and courage they show are beyond words

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  7. Tanya, what an amazing woman. I’m constantly awed by the determined, tough women who paved the way for later generations. My mother was from this stock. She was the most capable, strong woman I ever knew. She didn’t sit around waiting for someone to come along and take care of things that needed taken care of. She could roof a house, fix a car, pull teeth, and surround all us kids with her warmth and love. I like to think I inherited at least a good dose of her determination.

  8. Ah, c’mon, Tanya, let us talk about dental trauma. We can talk about strong women any old time. But dentists…well, those are stories fit for a graveyard at midnight on All Hallow’s Eve.

    Horror.

    Don’t you wonder about a woman like this? She just must have had such a strong … what? Intelligence? Ambition? Need to torture? 🙂 (sorry about that)

    We read about terrific, interesting women all the time here, pioneers in one industry or profession or another. This is so cool. She got married and taught her husband to be a dentist???

    Amazing strength.

  9. The West may have been a hard, unforgiving place, but what a great equalizing force for women. Women doctors and, now I learn, dentists got their start out in a land where citizens didn’t have the option of snubbing a professional for being a woman. Not if they wanted treatment for their ailments. Great post!

  10. This was very interesting Tanya. Another wonderfully interesting post! Thanks! Love strong women but can’t think of any good stories to share right now.

  11. We think of the woman who pioneered in the medical field, but I never thought of woman in dentistry.. Great post. I really enjoyed this history lesoon..

  12. Hi Vicki, oh yes, thanks for novacaine. I actually have a terrific dentist (a guy) these days and I am totally grateful those old-style instruments are a thing of the past.

    I guess in those days sometimes pulling a tooth out was all they could do.

    Hold those great “mom” stories close to your heart! (Not all of us got so lucky, grrrrr.)

  13. Hi Elizabeth, I’m sensing your mom’s love affair could be a righteous topic for a blog! I think long-term loving marriages are always so special. Remember when learning to sew was something girls did?

    Thanks so much for stopping by today!

  14. Hey Margaret, The Hurt Locker isn’t playing any where around here. It’s on our list of movies to see. Yes, I am rooting for Katherine Bigelow. I know there are still some frontiers left for women to cross. I guess that’s why Lucy Hobbs so inspired me.

    Thanks for posting today.

  15. Thanks, Cheryl and April. I so appreciate you taking the time to read and post today!

    Hi Melinda, I wonder what herbal treatments Native Americans might have used for toothaches. Always good to see you at the Junction.

  16. Hi Linda, the type of lady you describe fits my gramma. She has and always will be my hero. She is my example for the kind of gramma I intend to be for my little grandson. I think your mom left a pretty wonderful gene pool behind 🙂

    Thanks for posting. oxoxoxox

  17. Hi Mary, yes indeedio, it was hard not to ask for posts on dental mishaps or adventures LOL. I remember when the orthodontist pulled out a baby tooth of my daughter’s and threw it away! Sacrilege! Since I, perhaps macabre-ly, have saved all my kids’ baby teeth, I had a fit and sent him digging through the trash, unsuccessfully I might add.

    So sharing tooth stories is okay from now on!

  18. Hi Karen, Martha, and Kathleen, I too never gave early dentistry a thought until I found out about Lucy Hobbs. I knew women had a terrific struggle in the sciences and it so annoys me, I guess because I’ve known such successful ones.

    I love that Lucy taught her own hubby to come on board! What a guh he must have been!

    Thanks for stopping by the junction today!

  19. Ouch, seeing the instruments sent a chill down my spine. I had four molars drilled without novacaine – enough said on that topic. This was very interesting, the Dr. Quinn of dentistry. Hurray for courageous women like her.

  20. HI Nancy, good to see you here. I saw some of those antique instruments up close and personal at the Shelburn Museum in Vermont and it was horrific just imagining what went on with them. Yikes.

    I totally love Dr. Quinn. It’s finally showing again on the “Gospel Music Channel” and I DVR an episode or two now and again.

  21. I am such a weenie when it comes to dentists. Still remember the needles and drill of my childhood dentist. And his massive, bushy eyebrows. (shiver)

  22. ugh…dentists make me shudder
    how VERY cool that Dr Taylor lived in Bellevue, IA at one time…that’s where I live now! well, outside of it.
    it’s a very small and beautiful town on the river…
    never thought my town would make this blog 🙂

    i’m learning a lot about my local area this week…also learned that the nearby city i work in–dubuque, ia is one of the oldest cities west of the mississip’
    the founder befriended the local indians and apparently stole the chief’s daughter back from another indian tribe and made her his wife
    kind of a fun story 🙂

    back to the dentist..i would have definitely preferred a woman dentist pulling my teeth back in those days with instruments looking like that
    ugh

  23. Hi Tanya! I love strong women! They are amazing. I have always considered myself a strong women because if I want something done I do it myself. I was raised to work hard and do so today!

  24. Hi Tanya,

    WOW…Just WOW. I can’t believe this woman! She really must have had the conviction to become a dentist to go through all that she went through. Amazing. I love this post! I really don’t like to think about the dentist. I have very sensitive teeth/gums. So I’ll mention a strong woman. She was my great grandmother, and I never knew her, but she and my great-grandfather left Brush Creek TN and came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, before it ever was a state. They lived in a dug-out for awhile, and one morning my great-grandfather had gone somewhere, and she got up to a line of Indians outside her door. She was afraid–who wouldn’t be? But when they told her they needed supplies, even then, she only gave them half of what she had. They took it and left. If she had given them all, she and her husband wouldn’t have been able to survive the winter. Now that is strong.LOL
    Cheryl

  25. Hi Penny,you’d think I as over the drilling thing but once in a while need an old crown replaced or a new one put in and yes, whirrrrrrrrring drills. But I am convinced it’s better than being toothless! Thanks for stopping by today!

  26. Hi Tabitha, what wonderful info about Bellevue! Sounds like a romance plot in there, with the founder stealing a wife!

    Quilt Lady, it’s always so good to see you in the Junction. I do have my strengths LOL but…nah, mostly I’m a weenie. oxoxox

  27. Okay, Cheryl, now get that family history into a romance novel, okay? That’s so terrific.

    Your blog yesterday so totally rocked! What a good job you did. Hope to see you in Wildflower Junction again. And as always, best wishes with your books. Fire Eyes is a magnificent tale. oxoxoxxo

  28. Very interesting post. Boy, we sure do have it made.

  29. How appropriate for me today, DH had a miscommunication with our dentist and didn’t get his work done today, so he came home for lunch! Dentistry has come a long way. Great blog, Tanya!!

  30. hi Denise, we do indeed have it made. My great-uncle Martin kept all his teeth until he passed at 89. They weren’t very pretty (any surprise, noting all the equipement above) but they were all his, and he’s my inspiration. I recall my gramma, who never had dental cleaning or work, had to have all hers pulled when she was in her late FORTIES, delegated thereafter to denturs. Wow.

  31. Hi Charlene, say hi to your DH. So glad you had an unexpected rendezvouz! ooh lala. oxoxoxoxox to you both.

  32. Thank you so much, Tanya, I’m hoping to come back and blog again here. Everyone has been SO nice. Great group!!! Glad you enjoyed that little post–that’s one of my favorite tidbits of history. And yours today???? A WOMAN DENTIST IN THOSE DAYS???? WHO KNEW???? LOL Great post.
    Cheryl

  33. Hi Tanya, I’m another one who cringes at the thought of visiting the dentist. My childhood dentist terrified me – she was not a woman who should have been treating children. Great post – the West really was a land of opportunity for women, wasn’t it?

    The woman I admire most is my grandmother. She started teaching in a one-room country school as a teenager, and taught until she retired in her sixties. Along the way she raised four kids during the Depression, with a husband who was often too ill to work. She was only five foot two, but she was a force to be reckoned with, and she gave her best to every student she ever had. I’ve always admired her as a teacher and a human being.

  34. Tanya, did you actually SEE the man hunting through the trash? Because I’m suspicious. He leaves to ‘hunt’. Has coffee, comes back, “Wow, sorry, it’s no where to be found.”

    So he’s a dentist and an ACTOR.

  35. Very interesting post Tanya. My horrible dental visits were when I had my wisdom teeth either pulled or cut out – ouch!

    Other than that I have good teeth – thank God!

    Pamt

  36. Hi Jennie, always good to see you here! As a schoolteacher, I think I am always drawn to teachers, schoolmarms, the one-room schoolhouse. I visited a preserved one not long ago in Old Town Sacramento, and it put a lot of ideas in my mind!

    Sometimes those little teensie ladies have to make up for it with girl power. Your gramma sounds terrific.

  37. Aaargh, Mary. No, I didn’t see him hunting. Just sat in the waiting room while they “looked.” Grrrrr. Probably yanked out a couple more from some other unsuspecting kid in the meantime. Boo.

  38. Ooooh, Pam, that brought back a hideous memory. Uncle Albert had to hammer out an impacted one, once upon a time. I was numbed, but the sounds were cringe-making. Yuck.

    Thanks for posting today! oxoxoxo

  39. Thank goodness there are women like that!!!! Add me to the list of cringers after seeing those tools. It reminds me of having 3 wisdom teeth pulled in an office with what looked like a hammer and chisel – I swear it was worse than natural childbirth lol.

  40. Hi Jeanne, yeah, there was a chisel involved too. In my case, I liked it a tad better than childbirth. I delivered in the no-drug era. At least with my teeth, I was numbed up. Thanks for posting today!

  41. I worked in dental offices for 34 years, first as an LPN, then a dental assistant, then the office manager. I have seen things you cannot imagine.
    If you remember a slow speed drill and no Novocaine, use your imagination. AAAAHHHH!

  42. I admire Lucy tremendously. She must have been strong to persevere against all those restrictions.

    My own grandmother persevered, too, but not in as obvious a manner. Frances Josephine (Gamble) Phifer had only a second grade education in Tennessee, but she became a dental assistant and actually made her own dentures that lasted the rest of her life. She supported her ill husband, John, who had tuberculosis. After his death, she moved to OK and leased a farm with her young children until she remarried several years later.

    The sister of one of my lateral kin, Nicolena Snedal McCraray, was one of the first woman osteopaths in Texas. She moved from North Texas to Beeville and founded her own clinic and hospital. Later, her daughter joined her as a partner and continued after her mother’s death.

    I’m sure each of us has many strong women who have inspired us and give us lots of fodder for our writing.

  43. Wow! Tanya, what an interesting post. I can understand why you don’t want to hear of our personal dental experiences — how painful!

    Should I mention that the entire Iroquois Confederacy was built around the women — that the elder women held the balance of power in the tribe?

    They were strong women — as I know you know.

    Interesting post, Tanya. Ouch!

  44. Avatar

    Interesting blog, as usual. Each day, when I sit down at my computer, Petticoats and Pistols is always my first stop. I know it will be a good visit, no matter what the topic.
    Lucy Hobbs Taylor is a shining example of the strong women who helped make this country what it is. Whether it was the mother of a struggling family who worked to hold that family together and do the best she could for them, or the professional who broke barriers to get to the positions they held – they all opened doors for those of us who came later making it easier for us to pursue our dreams. They all deserve our admiration and thanks.

  45. Who were the strong women in history that I admire the most? My family. One of my great-great grandmother’s came to this country from Czechoslovakia with only her 2 year old son. She met a family on the boat with 6 children and when the wife dies pooled her lot with the widow. He passed away and left her alons in America with his 6 children and her own son. She sold head cheese to the bars in the Pilsner area of Chicago and her son grew up to become a judge. A great Aunt became the first woman to join the cigar makers union and ended her career as a leader of the union in Scranton, PA. Come to think of it, this explains so much about the rest of us.

  46. What an interesting post, Tanya. Those tools give me the shivers. I had my first tooth filled at 5 years old, before air drills and they didn’t deaden back then either.

  47. Hi Mary, I think I do remember early on, getting drilled without novocaine. I also remember mercury amalgams. Daddy found some mercury while I waited in the dental chair and covered a penny with it. And it’s poison LOL. Yikes.

  48. Wow, Caroline, what terrific stories yu’ve shared with us. Both women definitely need to be featured here, huh. I have a fit if my internet’s down or I’ve left a double coupon at home. Thanks for posting today!

  49. Hey Kay, yes I did know the Iroquois clans were headed by women. I made sure my boy students knew it LOL Thanks for sharing that fabulous fact with us today. oxoxoxoxox

  50. Hi Patricia, hear hear. Glad you enjoy P and P. Before I was invited to join this fantastic group, P and P was always my first stop, every single day. Thanks for sharing today. It’s always good to have you here.

  51. Hi Maria, that’s some fantastic family history you’ve got there. Keep track of that family lore! Someday I intend to do more research on my ancestors! I doubt the stories are that fascinating, however LOL.

  52. Hi Linda, shivering along with you. Whew. Thanks so much for stopping by! I always enjoy hearing from you.

    Everybody, I spent several hours with writer pals today, and got 2,000 words done, so it’s good to come back to the Junction and catch up. I thank all of you today for sharing your thoughts!

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