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Dr. Jane Selbe dies March 8

Pediatric dentist remembered as a mentor, leader and women's rights advocate

April 07, 2014

By Stacie Crozier, ADA News staff

Dr. Selbe: "It was pretty lonely as the only woman in a class of 135," she recalled in 2008, but was proud of the strides women had made in the profession since the 1950s.
Santa Fe, N.M.—Dr. Jane Selbe, a trailblazer for women dentists as a clinician, mentor and leader, died at her home in Santa Fe on March 8. She was 87.

Born in Rocky Ford, Colo., the daughter of a dentist, Dr. Selbe was the only woman to graduate with the Northwestern University Dental School class of 1951.

"It was pretty lonely as the only woman in a class of 135," Dr. Selbe wrote in an American Association of Women Dentists newsletter column in January 2008, "but now, the dental school classes are about 50 percent women, so fortunately, these students will not experience the discrimination we 'older' members felt."

Dr. Selbe was a pediatric dentist in the Chicago area for nearly a half century before retiring to Santa Fe in 1997. She is remembered by her colleagues as a mentor and an advocate for equality in the profession.

"Dr. Selbe was a remarkable woman who encouraged so many women dentists to become not only good dentists but leaders in dentistry," said Dr. Kathryn Kell, treasurer for the FDI World Dental Federation, an ADA past 10th District trustee (2004-08) and a general dentist in Davenport, Iowa. "She was a kind, gentle lady but would speak up to defend what she thought was right. She believed in supporting her associations, including the American Association of Women Dentists, the American College of Dentists and ADA. She encouraged all of us in AAWD to attend the meetings and social events of these organizations for networking and learning more about the profession."

Dr. Kell said that Dr. Selbe was one of the first, if not the first, women to join the Union League Club of Chicago and even arranged to have an American Association of Women Dentists meeting there.

Dr. Selbe served in a variety of leadership roles for the Chicago Dental Society; she was the first woman trustee for the Illinois State Dental Society from 1982-85, as well as state chair for National Children's Dental Health Month, president of the Illinois Society of Dentistry for Children and the Northwestern Dental Alumni Association. She was an ADA member and alternate delegate to its House of Delegates and a member of the American College of Dentists. She was president of the American Association of Women Dentists in 1986 and recipient of the AAWD's Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award, the association's highest honor for members who have made outstanding individual achievements in civic, cultural, academic and professional areas and are role models for women dentists who demonstrate commitment to the profession.

"Dr. Selbe was a wonderful role model for the dental profession," said Dr. Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago. "She was very active in organized dentistry and expected all her younger colleagues to participate and speak up. In particular, it was extremely important to her that women dentists take their rightful place in the profession. When she started, there were so few women: even the bylaws of dental organizations were written in the male gender. In her home state of Illinois, she made sure the men knew the ladies were coming."

Dr. Hayes said she was touched to hear from her mentor a few months ago as Dr. Selbe was preparing to enter hospice care after a long battle with cancer.

"I received a note from her a few months before she died, saying farewell and advising me to continue traveling as it expands the mind and it's fun," said Dr. Hayes. "In the midst of preparing for hospice, it is a tribute to her devotion to her friends and colleagues that she sent many of us such notes. Jane was my mentor until the end. As a young dentist she brought me to my first American College dinner, promoted me at the state and local level of dental organizations and taught me to always listen and pay attention to what was going on in our profession."

"Jane was truly the initial force in guiding and supporting my involvement in organized dentistry," said Dr. Trucia Drummond, a general dentist in Chicago. "She was adamant that we, her mentees, become the leaders she foresaw. Her influence was quite subtle. She didn't force the issue, but once there was a glimmer that we were striving forth she was the cheerleader.

"When I became the first woman president of ISDS," added Dr. Drummond, "Jane felt fulfilled that the women dentists of Illinois had finally broken the barrier. Jane also nominated me for the American College of Dentists and for the Lucy Hobbs Taylor award. She made similar nominations for other women as well. She was extremely loyal to the American Association of Women Dentists. She and Herb (her husband, Dr. Herbert Hammer) would invariably show up no matter where we met. She was always smiling and one was always happy to be in her presence. We missed her not being at our meeting in La Costa, Calif., last summer and will miss her from now on."

Dr. Mary Licking, a general dentist in Nashua, N.H., sent a report to ADA News that Dr. Selbe wrote for the AAWD's Chronicle in 1976 describing her trip to the White House for the presentation of the final report of the International Women's Year Presidential Commission when she was AAWD president.

"The White House soiree was exciting–and hectic," Dr. Selbe wrote. "I arrived at the East Gate of the White House 30 minutes ahead of schedule to find a 'mob' of women already gathered—they had the same idea I had—to beat the crowd. … When we finally were cleared for entrance, we were directed to the Rose Garden where the Marine Band was playing pleasant summertime selections and over 500 people milled about waiting for President [Gerald R.] Ford. The final report by the presidential commission for International Women's Year was—is—a book and each attendant was given one. President Ford, Jill Ruckelshaus, outgoing president of the commission, and the incoming president of the commission (whose name I never did get) gave short messages and then punch and cookies were served under two big gay red and white striped tents. I spoke with President Ford and Sen. Chuck Percy (Illinois Senator who has done much for the Equal Rights Amendment). President Ford is not only a very warm friendly person but is certainly a strong advocate of women and women's rights."

In an obituary that appeared in the Chicago Tribune last month, her daughter Susan said that her mother was adept at balancing her family's needs with the demands of her profession.

"When I was in college and what was called the women's liberation movement started to become a force in our lives, I didn't realize until then that this was what my mother had been doing her whole life," said Susan Selbe. "She was a woman able to manage a career and a family."

Dr. Selbe is survived by her husband Dr. Herb Hammer, her children Susan, Scott and Cindy Selbe, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services were held.