Ida Gray Nelson Rollins moved to Cincinnati when she was young and eventually began working in the office of a local dentist, Jonathan Taft. Taft was a supporter of women in the dental profession. When he became dean of the Dental Department at the University of Michigan, he encouraged Nelson to apply. Nelson enrolled in 1887 and graduated in 1890, and became the FIRST African American woman to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in the United States.
Rollins established a very successful dental practice in Cincinnati. In 1895 she moved to Chicago, where she opened one of the FIRST dental practices established by a Black women in that city. She served as a mentor to other Black women and was very involved in several women’s organizations. Ida Gray Nelson Rollins was born in Clarksville, Tennessee on March 4 1867. She died on May 3, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. She was 86 years old.