We like the profession and believe the time is not far distant when women will cease to be regarded by the masses as out of her sphere in the practice of dentistry.Clara Walworth MacNaughton, pictured left in her 1885 graduation photo. SMD 292.1885.
DDS 1885 University of Michigan
Like many educated women of her day, Clara MacNaughton’s horizons extended beyond her profession to include the condition of women in society at large. While practicing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she became active in the women’s suffrage movement. She was so committed to the cause, she moved her practice to Washington, D.C. where she could be directly involved on a national level. Once there, MacNaughton limited her dental practice to women and children, believing women dentists were especially suited to their care.
Self-Supporting and Ambitious
Clara MacNaughton was married with a daughter in Grand Rapids, Michigan when her husband died in 1876. Determined to become a dentist to support her family, she graduated from the University of Michigan in 1885 and returned to Grand Rapids to practice. By 1889, she was vice president of the Michigan State Dental Society. MacNaughton's diploma from the University of Michigan is pictured at left. Courtesy of Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
A Year of Change
In 1890, MacNaughton moved to Washington, D.C. where her practice centered on women and children, turning nurturing, a “female” quality, into a professional advantage. In an 1889 article in the Woman’s Tribune, she said, “…a great many women prefer to come to us, and we are, we believe, peculiarly successful with children because we understand better how to manage them.”
A Global View
MacNaughton traveled extensively, frequently in the service of dentistry. In 1889, she was a delegate to the International Dental Congress in Paris. In 1893, she participated in the World’s Columbian Dental Congress in Chicago, Illinois.
Equal Rights for Women
MacNaughton began supporting women’s rights while in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was a delegate to the International Women’s Conference in Washington, D.C. In 1890, she moved to D.C. where she served on executive boards of women’s rights organizations and met with congressmen to push their agenda. This group of suffragettes from New York picketed the White House in January 1917. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Records of the National Woman's Party, Manuscript Division, MNWP 276019.
19th Amendment Guarantees Women’s Right to Vote
MacNaughton campaigned for more than 30 years until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. She pressed for women’s rights in other ways, writing legislation to give married women civil liberties, equal parental rights, and the ability to own property separate from their husbands. She also lobbied for female physicians and staff in women’s prisons, reform schools and police stations.
For much of their lives, MacNaughton lived with her daughter, Marie (left). Marie was fluent in French acquired during their sojourn in Paris and became a translator for the State Department from the McKinley through the Wilson administrations. When MacNaughton retired, she moved to Oakland, California to live with Marie and her husband.
Getting the Word Out
MacNaughton conducted an extensive correspondence while on the boards of women’s rights organizations. She often wrote out a draft long-hand and then typed the final version.
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