Wesleyan Women of Distinction – Dr. Amelia “Amy” Jacobs ’74

“After I graduated from KWC, I moved back to Louisville and enrolled in graduate school. I was taking chemistry classes and doing peptide research when I decided to apply to dental school. My dad had always teased me that he wanted me to be an orthodontist because my braces had cost him too much. I was accepted into dental school and knew I had to be at the top of the class to go on to a postgraduate program in orthodontics. It was a challenge, but my perseverance paid off, and I graduated from dental school and received my license to practice dentistry in 1980 and orthodontic certificate and license in 1982.”

Why did you choose to attend Wesleyan?

In high school I was a member of an amazing United Methodist Church that had an evangelical ministry. The congregation and especially the youth group were growing exponentially. Although I had grown up in a church, it was my high school years when I understood the amazing sacrifice God made for anyone who calls on His name. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior. The combination of my pastor’s endorsement, my favorite high school teacher’s encouragement, the reputation of KWC for academic excellence and opportunities for scholarships, grants, work study and loans, made the decision to attend KWC an easy one.

What are special memories of your years at Wesleyan?

The top memories of my years at KWC are learning how to study, being a lab assistant for general chemistry, making wonderful friends, playing intramural basketball, softball and volleyball on an independent team, and getting to know amazing professors whom I did not want to disappoint.

Cheering at the 1973 NCAA championship was such an incredible experience.  It’s still hard for me to watch a basketball game from the stands when I was used to being on the basketball floor, hearing the shoes squeak and the players’ voices.  We won the semi-final game in the fourth overtime, then went on to win the championship. How exciting!

I remember when KWC got its computer. It filled one side of a small classroom. I was taking a FORTRAN course. We created punch cards to write programs and input data. On our lunch breaks, we would play three-dimensional tic tac toe against the computer. Sometimes we would win. Part of my work study consisted of operating a keypunch machine for a database of new KWC applicants.

Who at Wesleyan helped you become who you are today?

Dr. Magnuson mentored and encouraged me.  He expected me, and, well, all of us, to do well and learn all the material. He would have us pick up our tests and went over the missed questions. If I hadn’t learned something for the test, I certainly learned it after the test. One doesn’t get that kind of attention at a large university. Dr. Magnuson’s office door was always open. He didn’t mind students’ questions.  He was never too busy for us. He was always inviting students and faculty to his home for get-togethers. He was our teacher, mentor, encourager and friend. A girlfriend and I were invited to stay one summer at his home with his wife and daughter when he took a sabbatical. Today Dr. Magnuson can tell you about all his former students, where they are, what career they chose, about their achievements and their families. I am amazed at his memory and how much he cares about all of us. He is an amazing example of wisdom, knowledge and compassion.

What other ways did your Wesleyan experience prepare you for your life and career?

Wesleyan gave me the confidence that I could achieve my goals. I was never put down or made to feel unimportant. KWC life was a very positive experience.

Tell us about your career and what was most satisfying.

I practiced orthodontics as a solo private practitioner for 32 years. As an orthodontist, I loved the fact that our patients wanted their results, so they were happy to come for appointments. I got to see transformations of hundreds of “ducklings” becoming “beautiful swans.” Orthodontics changes lives. The dentition, periodontium and jaw joint are all healthier when the teeth and jaw bones are in proper alignment. And when the jaw function and oral health are optimized, the esthetic results are enhanced and self esteem improves. Orthodontics is a very rewarding and gratifying profession.

Five years ago I thought I should look into a plan to transition to retirement over the next several years. I found a successor who practiced orthodontics with similar philosophies and techniques. The transition happened faster than I expected. I am very happy with the new doctor, and the patients and staff have adjusted quite well.

Please share experiences about being a woman in dental school in the 70s, a time when women had new opportunities.

Dental schools have changed significantly since 1976. There were fifteen women in my class of 90 students. The previous year there were only three.  There were no women’s restrooms in the dental student lounge. The law school and medical school had the same problem. Thankfully, the dental hygiene wing was close. Since that time, the percentage of women in dental schools has risen. Now it’s about half the class. I am so thankful for my dental school education. We had some brilliant professors. It’s amazing how much we learned in a short four-year period of time. I am not a runner, but I compare dental school to running a marathon.

I was amazed that the encouragement I was accustomed to and personal attention I had received in college was not there in dental school. KWC is a hard act to follow. There were many subjects I had to learn in spite of the teacher, the foul language and dirty jokes. And, in fact, I was told personally a few times by professors who did not know me that I’d never make it through dental school. I had to prove myself at every turn. I suppose dental schools thought they were taking a big risk enrolling women. Dentistry was a man’s profession. I’m thankful they took the risk. I had to succeed, not only for myself, but for all the women who would come after me.

Dentistry is a great profession for women. There are so many options. A dentist can own her own practice, can specialize, be an associate in a dental office, work as an independent contractor, teach in a dental or hygiene school, work for an insurance company, or work in public health. A dentist can work as much or as little as she wants and make a good living. Dental office hours can be flexible to allow for family obligations.

The Kentucky Association of Women Dentists was established my senior year, and I was their first president. We met monthly and continue to meet for continuing education and encouragement. Women have to deal with school, career, discrimination and family issues. It’s much better now, but early on, women dental students had to be assertive to survive and thrive.

Tell us about your family, and how you like to spend your leisure time.

Steve and I are so proud of our daughter and son. (We’re waiting patiently for them to get married and have us some grandbabies). Our daughter has a Ph.D. in chemistry and is finishing a second postdoc at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, as a radiochemist. She has synthesized and patented a molecule that is a tool for looking at how ketone bodies are used by tissues in various disorders including cancer. She’s a soprano in a few Chamber choirs. Our son has two master’s degrees and teaches at Norton Healthcare. He is also a musician and teaches college level music, plays low brass, and sings professionally.

My husband, Steve, is a retired university professor who loves to create. He made a CNC machine that operates a laser and router. He programs the software and carves, engraves or etches images on wood or metals. He is also an artist and paints portraits. I like to sew, quilt, crochet and machine embroider. We enjoy ballroom, Latin and swing dancing and are members of a Christian Church, and I attend a weekly Bible study.

Who would like to have coffee with and why?

I’m not a coffee person, but I’d like a hot tea and visit with my dad (1923-1988).  I need to talk with him about all our relatives in heaven. It’s been a long wait, but I’m looking forward to being with him again. I miss my favorite aunt (1924-2004).  I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with her, too.

I also need a long trail ride with my saddlebred, Sheik (1984-2018).  Many years ago, when our children were young, Sheik taught us saddleseat equitation, and we competed at horse shows. But the last 15 years or so, Sheik and I would spend hours enjoying 900 acres of woods. In many ways, Sheik was my best friend and confidant. He was such a patient listener and never gave me any bad advice.  Trail riding is a tremendous stress reliever. One cannot be stressed when on a horse, in the woods, by the creek.

What advice would you offer to our students today?


Is there anything else you would like to share?

Expect miracles. 

God listens to our prayers.

In defining yourself, remember, you are who God says you are.