March 5: Henry Bliss Noble (1902)

Robert Tanner Freeman First Professionally Trained African- American Dentist in the United States

Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is headquartered in the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, named for HUD’s first secretary and also the first African-American named to a cabinet position. Weaver was the grandson of Robert Tanner Freeman (depicted here), the first professionally trained African-American dentist in the U.S. Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1846, a child of slaves. Early in his life, Freeman became friends with Henry Bliss Noble, a local dentist, and worked as an apprentice under him. Dr. Noble encouraged Freeman to pursue a dental career. After Freeman was rejected at two dental schools because of his race, Dr. Noble used his influence to get him admitted to the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Freeman graduated in 1869, becoming the first African-American to earn a dental degree.

Henry Bliss Noble married Henrietta Clitch at Epiphany in September 1864. Two months later, the Nobles were both confirmed there in a class of 85 confirmands, including four African-Americans. Over the next several decades, the Nobles saw their children baptized, confirmed, and married at Epiphany. Finally, after Dr. Noble’s death on March 5, 1902, his funeral took place in the church where he had been married 38 years earlier. A dental journal of the day memorialized him with these words: “He was very loyal to his friends, faithful in his devotion to his church, and benevolent and kindly, his attitude was one of malice toward none and charity for all.”

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