Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, 1833-1910:
A Lawrence, Kansas Pioneer in the
History of Women in Dentistry

An Exhibit at the Watkins Community Museum, Lawrence, Kansas
In Memory of Vance Roberts - October 2000

(Page updated 6 May 2009)

ABOUT THE EXHIBIT

This exhibit is the result of generous donations by friends and family of Elizabeth Vance McClymonds Roberts (1913-1998). Vance had a strong interest in Lawrence history and in Lucy Hobbs Taylor. Following the 1957 death of her husband Thorold Eugene Roberts, a petroleum engineer in Great Bend, Kansas, she moved to Lawrence to educate her four children. She owned the Lucy Hobbs Taylor home at 701 Ohio Street from 1959 until her death at age 85 in 1998. A bronze plaque on the front porch commemorates the property's link to Lucy Hobbs Taylor at the time of its construction in 1881. In the early 1970's, Vance and her neighbors formed the Old West Lawrence Association and were instrumental in having their neighborhood listed -- on Feb. 23, 1972 -- in the National Register of Historic Places. Vance was an avid supporter of the Douglas County Historical Society, which operates the Watkins Community Museum of History where this exhibit has been mounted. Vance admired and in many ways emulated Dr. Taylor's independence and strength.

ABOUT LUCY HOBBS TAYLOR

Lucy Beaman Hobbs Taylor was born on March 14, 1833 in Constable (Franklin County), New York at a time in our nation's history when the expected role of women was narrowly limited to motherhood or to a typically "spinsterish" occupation such as teacher or nurse.

Even early in her life, however, Lucy showed little interest in doing the expected. She taught school for 10 years in Michigan but held a steadfast ambition to pursue advanced medical study. In 1859 she moved to Cincinnati. Because of her gender, she was turned down for admission to the (by today's standards oddly misnamed) Eclectic College of Medicine, but this did not stop her from taking up private studies with one of the school's professors. At his suggestion, she turned to dentistry. Again becoming a private pupil, she pursued this profession under the guidance of the dean of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery and later apprenticed herself to a graduate of the school. After being refused admission to the dental college -- again because of her gender -- she opened her own practice at the age of 28 in Cincinnati in the spring of 1861. She later moved her practice to Bellevue, Iowa (1862) and thence to McGregor, Iowa (1862-1865). In time, she came to be known by what sounded like a translated Native American name -- "the woman who pulls teeth."

In July 1865, as an indication that Lucy had proven herself a worthy equal to her male colleagues, the Iowa State Dental Society accepted her as a member and in fact sent her as a delegate to the American Dental Association convention in Chicago. In November 1865, after serving patients for four years in her own dentistry practice, she was admitted to the senior class of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.

Receiving credit for her years of professional practice from a small but devoted group of admirers, she earned her degree only a few months later, in February 1866. Lucy Hobbs thus became the first woman in U.S. (and probably world) history to earn a doctorate in dentistry. While later practicing in Chicago, she met and married Civil War veteran and railway maintenance worker James M. Taylor in April 1867. Under his wife's guidance, he too became a dentist.

Late in 1867, the Doctors Taylor moved to the western town of Lawrence, Kansas, where they soon established a large and successful practice. Although the Taylors themselves did not become parents, much of their practice focused on women and children. Many patients referred to the highly respected woman as "Dr. Lucy." After her husband's death in 1886, she retired from most of her professional duties but remained active in civic and political causes, including the woman's suffrage movement. She gained recognition by her peers and fellow citizens as a pioneer in opening the doors for women to dentistry. By the turn of the century, almost one thousand women were welcomed to the profession -- a sign of immense progress for which Lucy Hobbs Taylor could take considerable credit.

Of her career in Kansas, Dr. Taylor wrote, "I am a New Yorker by birth, but I love my adopted country -- the West. To it belongs the credit of making it possible for women to be recognized in the dental profession on equal terms with men."

This courageous and determined pioneer died in Lawrence on October 3, 1910 at the age of 77. In her obituary in the local Lawrence newspaper, she was recognized as "one of the most striking figures of Lawrence [who] occupied a position of honor and ability, and for years she occupied a place high in the ranks of her profession."

Since 1983, the American Association of Women Dentists has recognized outstanding females in the profession by annually bestowing the Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award. The AAWD describes this honor as "the highest and most prestigious award that the AAWD presents to one of its professional members. This award recognizes a woman dentist who has contributed to the advancement, enrichment, and betterment of the role of women in the field of dentistry through her achievements in civic, cultural, humanitarian and academic areas."

Interestingly, the Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award for the year 2000 was presented in Chicago on October 15, the day following the opening of this exhibit in Lawrence to donors and guests. The winner that year was Dr. Barbara Mousel. This date also falls very near the date of Lucy Hobbs Taylor's passing (October 3) and near the birthday of Vance Roberts (October 11). Additional websites providing information about Taylor can be found through a search of her name in the Google search engine. A Wikipedia article about her is available here. Photos and additional information linked with Dr. Taylor and her era can be found at this link on the Kansas State Historical Society website.

LAWRENCE, KANSAS SITES ASSOCIATED WITH DR. TAYLOR

First office and residence (1868-1872), 800 Massachusetts. The current building at this location, now housing a travel agency, was built in 1915. (NOT PICTURED)



809 Vermont Street

Second office and residence (1872-1886, 1898-1910), 809 Vermont. This Italianate brick building, erected in 1872, today houses a hair-cutting salon. Dr. Lucy Taylor and her husband had this home built to provide professional quarters on the first floor and living space above. This property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. (SEE PHOTO AT LEFT)

 

Third residence (1886-1898), 701 Ohio. Also of Italianate design, this home was built as a brick duplex with identical upper and lower floor plans in 1881. After her husband's death in 1886, Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor lived on the upper floor. In 1898 she moved her living quarters back to 809 Vermont. The home at 701 Ohio was later covered in stucco, probably in the 1920's. A bronze plaque on the front porch, installed by relatives of then-owner Vance Roberts in 1998, commemorates the historic significance of the home. (SEE PHOTO AT RIGHT)

701 Ohio Street

 


Grave marker, Oak Hill Cemetery

Gravesite, Old Section 5, Oak Hill Cemetery, east end of 13th Street. The stone marking the graves of both Dr. Lucy and her husband features a vine wrapped around a tree trunk -- an appropriate symbol of their life together and their roles as pioneers in Lawrence. (SEE PHOTO AT LEFT)

IN GRATEFUL APPRECIATION

We thank the generous donors and supporters who made this exhibit possible. (Please accept our apologies for errors in this list.)

Anonymous

Dorothy D. Anderson

Kelly Brainard

Peter and Rosalea Carttar

Joe and Mary Chadbourne

Georgeana O. Crabb

Betsy Cummings

Bob and Donna Dickerson

DISC Employees Club

Don and Jane Flessing

Dr. and Mrs. Paul Getto

Karen Gilchrist

Mildred Gilchrist

William and Darlene Gilchrist

Phillip and Phoebe Godwin

Golf Course Supt Association

Martha and Robert Green

Dorothy Green

Terry and Mary Ann Henry

James and Clenece Hills

Robert and Eileen Honse

Elizabeth Hoover

 

Lauren James

John and Betty Jennings

Eileen and Alice Johnson

Arnie and Karen Johnson

Victoria Kimbrough

Dorothy Koch

Rebekah Leibengood

Peggy Maczuga

John and Dinah McClymonds

Elizabeth McConville

Jean McKinney

Betty Meadows

Jane Miller

Dean and Jean Milroy

Robert and Eileen Honse

Elizabeth Hoover

Lauren James

John and Betty Jennings

Eileen and Alice Johnson

Arnie and Karen Johnson

Victoria Kimbrough

Dorothy Koch

 

Rebekah Leibengood

Peggy Maczuga

John and Dinah McClymonds

Elizabeth McConville

Jean McKinney

Betty Meadows

Jane Miller

Dean and Jean Milroy

Austin and Marianna Nothern

John Oliver

Sally Postma

Dr. and Mrs. John Reese

Bruce and Harlanne Roberts

Bryson and Debbie Roberts

Caitlin M. Roberts

Tod and Denise Roberts

Wave Shaver

Mikal and Lisa Stuart

The Venice Foundation

Max Williams

Sean Williams

Ruth Woods

Sara Woods

In addition, we gratefully acknowledge Steve Jansen, Director of the Douglas County Historical Society, and his staff; Tom Swearingen, Exhibits Director, University of Kansas Museum of Natural History; and John Chorn, Research Assistant at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, for their guidance and help. This web page was prepared by Tod Roberts, a former Lawrence resident and the son of Vance Roberts.


Copyright © 2000, 2009, Tod Roberts and Douglas County Historical Society, 1047 Massachusetts St., Lawrence KS 66044 (page updated 6 May 2009), Phone 785-841-4109 • web: http://www.watkinsmuseum.org/