Ida Grey Nelson Rollins, DDS (First Black Woman to Graduate with a Doctorate of Dental Surgery in the USA)

Ida Gray Nelson Rollins was born in Clarksville, Tennessee on March 4, 1867. After her mother’s death, Ida was raised by her aunt, Caroline Gray, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gray supported her family (one son, and two daughters in addition to Ida) by working as a seamstress and housing foster children. Throughout high school, Rollins worked in the dental offices of Jonathan and William Taft, where she gained experience crucial to passing the entrance exam into the University of Michigan Dental College. Gray enrolled in October 1887, and graduated in 1890, as the first Black woman to graduate with a Doctorate of Dental Surgery in the United States.

Ida opened a private dental practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, and married Sanford Nelson in 1895. The couple moved to Chicago, Illinois, where Ida was the first Black person, male or female, to practice dentistry in Chicago. After her husband’s death in 1926, she married William Rollins in 1929. She died on May 3, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. 

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