First Woman of Dentistry Practiced in Killingly
Over the past six months I have spent several hours in a dentist’s chair. My teeth have endured three crowns and paradental gum procedures. Luckily, I have dodged the dreaded root canal (so far). While I appreciate receiving much-needed and excellent dental care, getting to know a new dentist was the best part of my recent visits.
Up until the last year I had three dentists during my entire life. My first dentist was a nice man who I went to until I moved away from home at 22. He repaired my many youthful cavities and even performed four extractions in preparation for braces. My second dentist, also a man, had a relatively small practice, but was exceptionally adept at maintaining my aging teeth.
When he retired, he recommended to me my third dentist, another man, who was also very skilled and incorporated the newest technology into his practice. Tragically, he passed away two years ago, and I was faced with finding a new dentist. When his practice was sold to a new team of dentists, I decided to give them a try, and I am glad I did.
All of this leads me to the fact that my new dentist is a woman. Three crowns later, I can say she and her skilled assistant work brilliantly together. It is because of her that my column today in celebration of Women’s History Month is about Emeline Roberts Jones from Killingly — the first woman of American dentistry.
Born in 1837, Emeline Roberts Jones grew up in Winchester. She married Dr. Daniel A. Jones, an aspiring dentist trained by Dr. R. B. Curtis of Winsted, when she was 18. Like many dentists of the time, Dr. Jones traveled to see patients and he regularly traveled to the western part of the state, with scheduled stops at New Boston, New Hartford and Ansonia. In 1855, a year after his marriage to Emeline, he established a practice in Danielson, where he worked until his death in 1864.
Emeline Roberts Jones was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame (CWHF) in 1994. If you are interested in learning more about the women in the Hall of Fame, I suggest you look up their website at: http://cwhf.org/.
The following is taken directly from the information on Roberts Jones from the CWHF website.
“Dr. George Baker, editor of Dental Times in 1865, concluded ‘the very form and structure of woman unfits her for its [dental surgery] duties.’ Unbeknownst to the good doctor, Emeline Roberts Jones had already established herself as the first woman to practice dentistry in the United States by tending to the teeth of numerous residents of Northeastern Connecticut in the years prior to the Civil War.
At age 18, Emeline Roberts married a dentist, Dr. Daniel Jones, who had acquired his knowledge of the field from Dr. R.B. Curtiss in Winsted. There were at that time only a handful of dental colleges in the country. When Emeline displayed an interest in her husband’s profession, she was met with resistance from Jones, who accepted the contemporary belief that dentistry was no occupation for the ‘frail and clumsy fingers’ of a woman. Not to be denied, Jones pursued her interest in dentistry clandestinely. It was only after she had secretly filled and extracted several hundred teeth and demonstrated her skill and ability that her husband finally permitted her to work on some of his patients. Grudgingly, he allowed her to practice with him at his office in Danielsonville in 1855. Four years later, she became his partner, where she enjoyed a reputation as a skilled dentist.
When her husband died in 1864, Emeline Jones was left with two young children. Nevertheless, she bravely carried on alone in order to support her family, traveling with her portable dentist’s chair to Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island. In 1876, she moved to New Haven, where she established a successful practice, which she maintained until her retirement in 1915.”
Emeline Roberts Jones is also in TLGV’s online publication “Notables and Notorious: Historically Interesting People from The Last Green Valley.”
She was not only the first woman dentist — she was the first woman to own a private practice, offering her services as a “competent dentist.” Emeline’s New Haven office was described as “one of the largest and most lucrative practices in Connecticut,” according to an article in the California Dental Association Journal.
Emeline Jones was a member of the Woman’s Advisory Council of the World’s Columbian Dental Congress in 1893. She was elected as an honorary member of the Connecticut State Dental Society in 1912, and then to the National Dental Association in 1914. Emeline was 80 years old when she died in 1916.
I am pleased to share with you the interesting story of dentistry pioneer Emeline Jones Roberts. She is among the many fascinating people who lived in The Last Green Valley. Her legacy lives on today with the many women dentists, including mine, who enjoy fulfilling careers practicing dentistry throughout the world.
We live in a fascinating place called The Last Green Valley. I hope you’ll join me and others working to preserve our rich cultural heritage and beautiful natural resources. The personal stories of the people who lived in our region are important to share so we can take inspiration from those who went on before us.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in the region for more than 35 years and can be reached at email@example.com.
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