First Black woman to become a dentist in the U.S


A Clarksville native, Ida Gray Nelson Rollins (also known as Ida Gray) is the first Black woman dentist in the United States. She is also the first Black woman with a doctoral degree in dental surgery.

Gray was born in Clarksville on March 4, 1867.

Dr. Ida Gray

Dr. Ida Gray
Photo submitted by JACKIE COLLINS

Her mother died shortly after Gray was born. She was sent to Ohio and was raised by an aunt. 

While in high school, Gray worked as an assistant in a dental office under the supervision of Jonathon and William Taft. Johnathan was dean of the Ohio College of Dentistry and advocated for women being trained as dentists.

In 1887, Gray graduated from Gaines Public High School. Taft encouraged her to apply to the University of Michigan. She graduated in three years, becoming the first black woman to graduate with a doctorate of dental surgery in the United States. 

In 1890, Gray moved to Cincinnati and opened a private practice. Five years later, she relocated to Chicago and set up a second practice. 

Gray retired from dentistry in the 1930s, remaining in Chicago. She was married to James Nelson in 1895 and remarried after his passing. Her second husband was William A. Rollins. 

In 1953, Gray died at age 86.

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