It takes a lot for a woman to be in a top position, particularly in a male profession. You have to be better to be accepted as equal. Once your collegues accept you as a competent person, they don't mind your being there. But men are resentful at first because they feel a woman has been selected for a position they might have taken.Jeanne C. Sinkford, 1968. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Sinkford, DDS.
DDS 1958 Howard University
MS 1962 and PhD Physiology 1964 Northwestern University
Jeanne C. Sinkford has overcome race and gender barriers to rise to the top of her profession. She graduated first in her class at Howard University’s College of Dentistry and rose to become its dean and the first woman dean of any dental school. Committed to community service and social responsibility, Sinkford has also actively recruited women and minority students to the dental profession as Director of the Center for Equity and Diversity at the American Dental Education Association.
From Tomboy to Competitive Student
Jeanne Sinkford’s family valued education very highly. One of four sisters, all of whom went to college, Sinkford learned discipline from her parents, grandfather and at a Catholic middle school. She was part of the cadet program at Dunbar High School, a highly competitive school for African Americans in Washington, D.C.
Mutually Compatible Careers
Jeanne Craig enrolled at Howard University at 16 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in psychology and chemistry. She married Stanley Sinkford, a Howard medical student her junior year. Encouraged by her family dentist, she chose dentistry as a career because she “did not want to have a conflicting profession” with her husband.
Top of Her Class
After graduation, Sinkford taught prosthodontics at Howard and had a part-time practice while her husband finished his military obligations and pediatric residency. They moved to Chicago where he completed a fellowship in cardiology and Sinkford earned a PhD in physiology at Northwestern University.
Embracing a National Role
Sinkford served on numerous national councils and organizations including the National Institutes of Health, National Academy of Sciences, White House Conference on Aging, Food and Drug Administration and Veteran’s Administration. A member of the Tuskegee Ad Hoc Advisory Panel, she helped develop policies to protect the rights of patients participating in government-sponsored health research. She was elected into the American College of Dentists in 1967.
Wearing Many Hats
Upon her return to Howard, Sinkford became chair of the Department of Prosthodontics (artificial replacement of missing teeth) which left little time for research. She proved such a capable administrator that she was promoted to professor and associate dean. She focused particularly on the special challenges of minority students.
Balancing Family and Career
With two medical professionals and three children, Sinkford and her husband managed both a successful marriage and two careers. Her daughter said, “I don’t know how you did all the things that you did. You went to soccer games, parent-teacher meetings, ballet lessons, and all that stuff.”
First Female Dean of Any Dental School
Sinkford was appointed Dean of Howard University’s College of Dentistry in 1975. She set very high standards and then found ways for students and faculty to achieve them. With a firm but gentle manner, she encouraged open discussion of problems. She fostered student dialogue with faculty and administration through committee membership and regular informal get-togethers.
As dean, Sinkford believed “mentoring develops the profession.” Programs helped at-risk students rise to their potential. Department chairs were expected to help junior faculty adapt to and thrive in an academic environment as teachers, researchers and administrators. Here, Sinkford receives the Howard University Alumni Achievement Award.
Serving the Community
Until recently, discrimination and segregation meant that African-American communities were primarily served by black dentists. As dean, Sinkford worked to ensure that her graduates were capable of handling a wide variety of tasks without relying on specialists that their patients could not afford.
A New Direction
During her academic career, Sinkford avoided feminist issues, preferring to promote talent and have “women accepted as colleagues.” When she joined the Center for Equity and Diversity at the American Dental Education Association, she refocused to help women pursue dental careers and academic and leadership programs.