Dr. Ida Gray Nelson-Rollins: America’s First Black Woman Dentist (1867-1953)


This is Dr. Ida Gray Nelson-Rollins. She was the first African-American Woman to earn a DDS (Doctoral degree in Dental Surgery). Dr. Gray Nelson-Rollins was born in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1867 and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio  as a young girl. She attended Gaines Public High School in Cincinnati, graduating in 1887. After graduation, she enrolled in the University of Michigan Dental School. She received her DDS in 1890 and returned to Cincinnati where she opened her very successful private practice. A newspaper editor said of Dr. Gray Nelson-Rollins, “her blushing, winning ways makes you feel like finding and extra tooth anyway to allow her to pull.”


In 1895, Dr. Gray married James S. Nelson, an accountant, lawyer, and officer in the Eighth Illinois National Guard Unit and relocated to Chicago. She joined and became active in several Women’s organizations in Chicago and became an example for Black Women achieving success in a racist and masogynoiristic society. He passed away in 1926 and married again in 1929 to William A. Rollins. Dr. Gray Nelson-Rollins passed away in 1953 and on her headstone is the epitaph: ” Dr. Ida Gray Nelson Rollins, 1st Negro Woman Dentist in America.”

I Salute this AMAZING HER-story making Sista!


African American Registry. (2000-2013). Ida Gray Nelson-Dentistry Born. Retrieved from http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/ida-gray-nelson-dentistry-born

BlackPast.Org. (2007-2015). Rollins, Ida Gray Nelson (1867-1953). Retrieved from http://www.blackpast.org/aah/rollins-ida-gray-nelson-1867-1953

Empak Publishing Company. (1984). A Salute to Historic Black Women. Vol 1. Div. Of Empak Enterprises.


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