Archive for Sunday, October 15, 2000

Woman who pulls teeth

Watkins Museum exhibit remembers world’s first female dentist

October 15, 2000


When Lawrence resident Elizabeth Vance Roberts was gravely ill, her daughter, Clenece Hills, asked her what she wanted her obituary to say. Roberts replied, "Say I'm from Old West Lawrence."

Roberts, one of the founders of the Old West Lawrence Assn., lived for several years at 701 Ohio, the former home of Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the world's first female dentist. She was enchanted by the two-story, stucco duplex, and its history and upkeep became a hobby.

What: "Woman Who Pulls Teeth: Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, First Woman Doctor of Dental Surgery" exhibit.When: Through mid-April.Where: Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.

After Roberts' death in 1998, Hills talked to Douglas County Historical Society members and together they decided to coordinate an exhibit that would pay homage to Taylor, Roberts and the home they shared.

"Woman Who Pulls Teeth: Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, First Woman Doctor of Dental Surgery" will be displayed through mid-April at the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.

Drilling and filling

Tom Swearingen, director of exhibits at Kansas University's Natural History Museum, and John Chorn, a research assistant at the Natural History Museum, are building the exhibit, which is a mix of text, photographs and objects.

The exhibit includes a wrought-iron dentist's chair with mannequins in period attire; a treadle-driven drill; a press that was used to shape $5 gold pieces into gold fillings; instruments such as explorers, plier-like tools used to pull teeth and bayonets, which were used to pull and cut the gum away from teeth; metal forms to take impressions of teeth; and a vulcanized rubber set of false teeth, with teeth made from elephant tusk and ivory.

A poster developed in 1991 by Crest and showing the timeline of dentistry features Taylor as well as George Washington (the idea he had wooden teeth is a myth).

"It's a historical exhibit because it has a lot to do with women's suffrage, and women getting accepted into the professional world," Swearingen said.

Leaving a legacy

Taylor was born in March 1833 in New York, a time when women were expected to be mothers, according to information compiled by Tod Roberts, Elizabeth Vance Roberts' son. Being a nurse or teacher was acceptable for unmarried women so Taylor began her career as a teacher in Michigan.

But after 10 years, her desire to go into medicine won out. In 1859, she was denied admission to Eclectic College of Medicine so she studied privately with one of the school's professors. At his suggestion, she turned to dentistry.

She studied and worked as a dental apprentice, but her admission to the Ohio College of Dental Surgery was denied because of her gender. So she decided, at the age of 28, to open her own practice in Cincinnati. She moved to Iowa and became known by an American Indian name that translated into "the woman who pulls teeth."

In July 1865, the Iowa State Dental Society accepted her as a member, and later that year, after seeing patients for four years, she was admitted to the senior class of Ohio College of Dental Surgery.

In April 1867, she married James M. Taylor, a Civil War veteran and railway maintenance worker. Before long, her husband, at her urging, became a dentist.

The Taylors moved to Lawrence in late 1867, first living at 800 Mass. and then moving to 809 Vt. and finally to 701 Ohio.

Much of their practice focused on women and children. After James Taylor's death in 1886, his wife took up civic and political causes, including women's suffrage.

Lucy Hobbs Taylor died Oct. 3, 1910, at age 77. She died in the same room in which Hill's mother would later pass away.

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