Thursday, November 15, 2007

Women in dentistry

We've talked a bit lately about women in medicine, spurred by our participation in the 2008 Portland showing of the National Library of Medicine's exhibit, Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians, hosted by the Central Branch of the Multnomah County Library.

But what about women in dentistry? For some brief information on this topic, there's no better place to start than W. Claude Adams' History of Dentistry in Oregon, a companion volume of sorts to Olof Larsell's The Doctor in Oregon. Written in 1956 on the occasion of the "consummation ... of one hundred and ten years of progress in dentistry in Oregon," Adams' history covers the pioneer days of "primitive dentistry" through the 1950s, highlighting dental organizations, practice, education (merger mania!), research, and consumer health as well as "present-day problems" like payment plans, insurance, and legislation.

Adams devotes an entire chapter to women in Oregon dentistry. Writing from the vantage of a successful male dentist at the top of his game in postwar America, Adams writes:
Knowing of the prejudice against which women in dentistry had to battle, mere man can do no less than admire the courage of the women who braved the opposition and chose dentistry as a life work.
Most of the women dentists he chooses to include in his narrative are those who graduated from dental schools in the 1890s and early 1900s, such as Lizzie Stewart and Alice Magilton, two 1902 graduates of the North Pacific College (a predecessor of the OHSU School of Dentistry). Stewart went on to practice in Seattle, while Magilton chose Klamath Falls as her home base.

Several notable women dentists in turn-of-the-century Oregon practiced jointly with their husbands. One such, Dr. Mollie Bowman Hickey (1866-1951), came to Portland with her husband in 1894 after graduation from the University of Iowa dental school. After her husband's death, Hickey continued in solo practice until her retirement in 1944. Adams notes that "she was especially successful with artificial dentures."

Reading about Dr. Grace Keith Pulliam, I was struck by the similarities between the wartime activities of Pulliam and Esther Pohl Lovejoy, one of our most notable female medical graduates. A 1908 graduate of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Pulliam opened her practice in Portland in 1909 becoming the first dentist in Oregon to specialize in periodontia. She was also a charter member of the Academy of Periodontology in 1914 and was made an honorary life member upon her retirement from active practice. During World War I, Pulliam served with the American Red Cross in France as a dentist for refugee children; when that service was discontinued, Pulliam stayed on as "a canteen worker at Brest, the debarkation point." Her dedication to dental care for the war-torn nation no doubt earned her much respect among her colleagues. After her return to the United States, Pulliam went on to serve as president of the Association of Women Dentists (1931-32). At that time, Adams notes, there were approximately 1200 women dentists in the U.S. and Canada.

For more facts about the history of women in dentistry and about current activities of women dentists, check out the American Association of Women Dentists' website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

needs more about the current percentages of women in dentistry and more info and details