Contributions To Dentistry – Emeline Roberts Jones
Emeline Roberts Jones is a pioneering figure in the history of dentistry. Her trailblazing opened the door to an entire generation of female dentists, not to mention being a landmark moment in the history of feminism as well. Despite living during a time when most scientific and medical fields were off limits to women, she proved that female medical practitioners were just as capable and accomplished as their male counterparts.
As with many aspects of development, the breakthrough moments of a few individuals can have a profound impact on not only the field in which those individuals work, but on society as a whole. This was certainly the case with Emeline Roberts Jones, and it’s a shame that more people do not know about her important contributions to dentistry.
At Grand Lake Dental, we like to take a moment to celebrate the tremendous achievements of those who came before us, and thank them for the impact they had on making dentistry, and by extension, the world a better place. Emeline Roberts Jones was a true hero and innovator, and it’s only right to acknowledge her accomplishments.
Who was Emeline Roberts Jones?
Emeline Roberts Jones was born in 1836 in the United States. Growing up in the Northeast, primarily Connecticut and Rhode Island, she lived during a time when there were no practicing female dentists in the United States. In fact, when she married the dentist Daniel Jones at age 18, he said to her that dentistry was an unsuitable profession for women, citing their “frail and clumsy fingers.”
A decade later, the prominent dentist Dr. George Baker, who also happened to serve as the editor of the Dental Times, wrote that, “The very form and structure of woman unfits her for its [dental surgery] duties.” Unbeknownst to him, Jones had already been treating dental patients for the past ten years, making her the first woman in history to practice dentistry in the United States.
She managed to accomplish this over the objections of her husbands by studying in secret. She went so far as to practice filling cavities in hundreds of extracted and discarded teeth. This convinced her husband that she could do the job, and she became his assistant in 1855.
After her husband died in 1864, she took over his practice. She would travel around the Northeast with a portable dentist’s chair, until she opened a dental office in New Haven, Connecticut in 1876, which grew into one of the state’s largest practices. In addition, Jones was a member of the Woman’s Advisory Council of the World’s Columbian Dental Congress in 1893. A few years prior to her retirement, she was made an honorary member of both the Connecticut State Dental Society and the National Dental Association. For all these accomplishments, she was inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.
What was dentistry (and society) like in Emeline Roberts Jones’ era?
Emeline Roberts Jones lived and worked during a time when the dental industry was still in its infancy. Fillings were only developed a few years prior, and were still a novelty in many places around the world. Dentures were often improvised constructions involving a mixture of teeth from corpses or animals, carved stones or shells, or any other contrivance a dentist might dream up. There were no dental drills until the end of the 19th century, and the available tools were often primitive and improvised.
At the same time, women were not allowed into dental schools when Jones launched her career. The prejudices against women were strong, with female doctors, lawyers, and many other professions facing the same deterrents or outright prohibitions as an aspiring dentist would. This makes Jones’ accomplishments particularly noteworthy, as her success helped lead to further breakthroughs in many industries beyond just the field of dentistry.
What other women were major contributors to dental history?
Following in the footsteps of Emeline Roberts Jones, a number of other female dentists achieved important milestones in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1866, more than a decade after Jones began her career as a dental assistant, Lucy Hobbs Taylor graduated from Ohio Dental College, making her the first woman to earn a dental degree anywhere in the country, although it should be noted that she did not fully complete her studies there, as she was awarded credits for prior experience she had gained as a practicing dentist.
It wasn’t until 1869 that Henriette Hirschfeld-Tiburtius was the first woman to complete her full coursework in dentistry, graduating from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. In 1890, Ida Rollins was the first African-American woman to graduate with a dental degree, after completing her studies at the University of Michigan. This was a truly remarkable accomplishment considering that slavery was only abolished 25 years prior.
In 1892, Mary Stillwell-Kuesel led eleven other women in establishing The Women's Dental Association of the U.S. In 1909, Minnie Jordon created the first pediatric-only dental practice in the US. In 1916, Gillette Hayden became the first female president of the American Academy of Periodontology, while in 1920 Maude Tanner became the first female delegate to the American Dental Association.
Your Grove, Oklahoma Dental Specialist
In 2021, it may not seem like a big deal to have a female dentist, but in time of Emeline Roberts Jones, it was completely unexpected. Thanks to Jones and the other women who fought against the prejudices of the time and proved that female dentists were just as capable as their male counterparts, the young women and girls of Oklahoma can dream of becoming a dentist, or any other occupation they might desire.
And while Emeline Roberts Jones toiled in conditions that might horrify us today, those who come to Grand Lake Dental can expect to be treated in the most modern facilities available. The health and comfort of our patients is always our number one objective. Our entire staff, led by Dr. Jobst, is fully committed to providing the most reliable and effective dental care to the Oklahoma families we serve. When you visit our dental offices, you will rest easy knowing you’ll receive the best possible care.
Call us today to schedule your next dental appointment.