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Wed, 02.20.1867

Ida Gray Nelson, Dentist born

Ida Gray Nelson

*The birth of Ida Gray Nelson Rollins in 1867 is celebrated on this date. She was a Black dentist.

Ida Gray was born in Clarksville, Tennessee; at an early age, she and her parents moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended Gaines Public High School in Cincinnati, graduating in 1887. She entered the University of Michigan Dental School and received her DDS degree in 1890.  At this time, Gray became the first Black woman in America to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree.  She returned to Cincinnati, where she established a very successful private practice.

It was reported that a newspaper editor said of Dr. Gray, "her blushing, winning ways makes you feel like finding an extra tooth anyway to allow her to pull." In 1895, Gray married James S. Nelson, and they moved to Chicago, where she spent the rest of her life.

Her husband, a Spanish-American and World War I veteran, died in 1926; and she remarried in 1929 to become Mrs. William A. Rollins, but was better known as Dr. Ida N. Rollins. She was also the first Black woman to practice dentistry in Chicago and mentored other Black women in the profession.

She became active in several Chicago women's organizations and was often singled out as an example of what Black women could accomplish. Dr. Ida Gray Nelson died on May 3, 1953.

To Become a Dentist


Perspectives of

Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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