UNMC history: Dental pioneers

by Erin Torell, McGoogan Library of Medicine | November 25, 2020

Image with caption: Esther Edwards Svoboda

Esther Edwards Svoboda

The University of Nebraska College of Dentistry has its roots in the Lincoln Dental School, founded in 1899. The dental school, affiliated with the University of Nebraska in 1918, changed its name to the University of Nebraska College of Dentistry in 1919.

Unfortunately, we know little about some of the early dental school pioneers, such as Kiyoshi Kumamoto of Japan. He was the first graduate (1901) of the Lincoln Dental School, after completing the three-year curriculum in two years. Nor do we know much about Elizabeth Field, the first female graduate (1902).

But we do know the story of Esther Edwards Svoboda, the first female graduate after the school affiliated with the University of Nebraska.

Svoboda always wanted to be a dentist. After high school graduation, she taught in a country school for two years to save money for dental college. Svoboda was initially worried that as a woman, she would have trouble gaining admission. There was a fear that the administration would not give a place in the class to a woman who might quickly end her career after she was married. Luckily for Svoboda, the administration proved to be liberal and accepting of female students.

Svoboda enjoyed her time as a student. There were carefree hijinks like buckets of water balanced on doors and acid put on seats in chemistry class.

Svoboda graduated from the College of Dentistry in 1926 and practiced in Omaha until she married Fred Svoboda, a 1927 graduate of the College of Dentistry. The newlyweds moved to Cozad, Nebraska, where Dr. Svoboda practiced dentistry jointly with her husband for over 50 years.

The Svobodas' daughter, Ellen Svoboda Tye, carried on in her parents' footsteps. She graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Dentistry in 1959, the only female student in her class.

  • Dr. Tye recounted how accepting the College of Dentistry administration, and her fellow male students, were for female students. The men had a locker room and showers, so the administration created a specific space for the female students as well. They were also accommodating to Dr. Tye when she gave birth to her daughter before exams in her junior year. She relocated to Boulder, Colorado, where she practiced for many years.

    Thanks to all of the early pioneers of Nebraska dental education.


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