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Meet Jessie Gideon Garnet, Boston's first black woman dentist

March 8, 2018

 Dr. Jessie Gideon Garnett was the first black woman to graduate from Tufts Dental School and the first black woman to practice dentistry in Boston.

Dr. Jessie Gideon Garnett
Jessie was born in Nova Scotia in 1897. When she was eleven years old, she moved to Boston with her family. Her family settled in Roxbury and Jessie attended and graduated from Girls High School.

After graduating from Girls High, Jessie enrolled at Tufts College and then was accepted into the Tufts School of Dentistry. Even though Jessie was well qualified for the dentistry program, some at the school bristled at her acceptance.  Jessie recounted that shortly after she enrolled at the school, one of the deans said to her,  “You’ll have to find your own patients, you know.” Jessie replied, “That will be just fine with me.”

Jessie did find her own patients. After graduating in 1920, she set up her own practice on Tremont Street. At first, business was slow, but she built up a clientele. She successfully practiced in Roxbury for almost 50 years.  The tax record below shows Jessie’s practice located at 80 Monroe Street in 1939.

Assessors’ Street Record, 1939, Personal and Real Estate tax records, Collection 2410.003, Boston City Archives

 Jessie worked to help other black women enter the professional workforce. In 1926, she banded together with six other black professional women to found the Psi Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the oldest predominantly black sorority in the United States.  The chapter focused on leadership development among black women and provided scholarships to young black women.

You can visit Jessie’s home and office on the Roxbury Women’s History Trail