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Black History Profile – Ida Gray February 13, 2011

Posted by msbobbieg in Uncategorized.

Ida Gray – Dentistry Was Her Destiny

By: Bobbie Jones

 During this Black History Month I also wanted to provide you with a little regional inspiration.  So enjoy the following profile and learn a little bit about the past and maybe even become inspired.     


        If ever the phrase “In the right place at the right time,” carried any weight it was during Ida Gray’s lifetime. Ida Gray was born in the mid 1800’s in Clarksville, TN to a young mother who later died when Ida was only an infant.  Sadly however Ida did not have the benefit of knowing her white father who never kept in contact with the motherless Ida.

            However, life has a way of turning things around and putting us on a path to greatness even when all the odds are seemingly against us.  Ida was taken in and raised by a relative Ms. Carolina Gray, and Ms. Gray became Ida’s life line.  In 1868 when the Gray’s moved to Cincinnati, Ohio Ida didn’t know it but she would soon meet the two men who would not only give her the spark for her future career but Jonathan and William Taft would be brave enough and progressive enough to give Ida, a young African American girl her first job in their dental office as an assistant.

            When Ida was still in high school Taft was working as the dean of the Ohio College Dentistry and he was also the editor of the Dental Register.  But, in 1875 he became the first dean of the Dental College at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

    When Jonathon Taft went off to the University of Michigan to engage in his duties, Ida stayed behind and learned her craft.  Since Ida became so well versed in the field of dentistry Taft encouraged her to apply to the University of Michigan so she could obtain her degree in the field.  Since Ida already had two close allies with an inside track she entered the University of Michigan’s Dental School in October, 1887 becoming the first African American Female to receive her doctor of dental surgery degree (DDS) in June of 1890.

            In 1890 Ida returned to Cincinnati after graduation and surprisingly enough was able to open up her own private practice on Ninth Street.  Not only was this unique and remarkable given the climate and the attitudes surrounding African Americans in the late 1800’s but, kindly enough one newspaper reporter said about Ida, “her blushing, winning ways makes you feel like finding and extra tooth to allow her to pull.”  Miss Gray endeared herself to her clientele which was made up of all races.

            Gray would later marry and her and her husband would move to Chicago in 1895 where she would become the first African American female dentist to practice in the city of Chicago.  Once again her clientele would grow and it would represent all segments of society.  Gray who later became Mrs. Nelson also knew the importance of giving back, she became a mentor and role model to many of the young children in the area.  She was also instrumental in the life of one of her patients – Olive M. Henderson who later became the second African American Female dentist to practice

in Chicago.  She graduated from Northwestern University Dental School in 1912.

            Ida learned somewhere early on that when somebody helps you along your path – when you get that same chance to help someone else along you better do it.  For, you see in the African American culture and community “Paying It Forward” was not just a social buzzword it was a way of life.


What Giving it to ya !  Has for you…


– Photos courtesy of Google Images on the Web

– Photos of Book Jackets (All Labor Has Dignity & Working While Black) by: Bobbie Jones

– All Labor Has Dignity, written by Martin Luther King Jr. (Beacon Press –  $24.95)

– Working While Black, written by Michelle T. Johnson (Lawrence Hill Books – $14.95)

– All Rights Reserved

Enjoy and learn Black History



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