From the time she was 5 years old, helping her father count supplies and prepare gold for fillings, Elsie Cole was destined to become the first female dentist in Lackawanna County.
Born in Scranton in 1892, she was determined to follow in the footsteps of her father, P.F. Struppler, who had a dental practice in West Side. She attended the School of Lackawanna and then Temple School of Dentistry, where she met Jesse Cole, another dental student who would become her husband. They married in 1914, a year after they graduated.
Soon, the couple opened their first dental office in Archbald but moved to 1413 Ash St. in Scranton after a few years. The Coles would live at that address and run the dental practice from the same building for the rest of their lives, according to newspaper clippings.
Being the first female dentist in Lackawanna County wasn’t Elsie Cole’s only “first,” however. In 1952, she was installed as the president of the Scranton District Dental Society. In addition to being the first female to lead the local group, a Dec. 3, 1952, Scranton Times article reported she was believed to be the first female president of any local dental society in the nation.
Less than three years later, Elsie Cole earned another first: representing the Pennsylvania State Dental Society at its annual convention in San Francisco. It was the first time a woman had represented the state society. Cole was installed as vice president of the state group starting in May 1955, another first in her cap.
She also served as vice president of the national dental society for a year, according to news clippings.
The Scranton District Dental Society honored her in 1963 for practicing dentistry for 50 years, according to a Scranton Times article. The Town & Country Supper Club hosted the dinner that September featuring remarks from Scranton Mayor William T. Schmidt as well as Dr. Gerald D. Timmons, the president of the American Dental Association, and other dental dignitaries from the state.
Jesse Cole’s death in 1963 didn’t stop Elsie Cole from continuing to practice, nor did a surgery in April 1970. By that time, she had treated four generations of some local families.
A Scrantonian article reported, “Following recent surgery, many of her patients feared she would be forced to take down her shingle and retire from the profession she has served so nobly for 57 years. But this remarkable woman has different ideas.”
She told the Scrantonian reporter she hoped to be back by Monday, April 13, 1970 — a day after the story was published.
“I can hardly wait to don my white coat again,” she said to the reporter, who noted in the article that she said it “like a younger woman might talk about a full-length mink coat.”
In that story, she reminisced about her early start in the dentistry profession, helping her father as a youngster. She noted that dentistry had changed quite a bit since she began practicing.
“But she managed to keep up with the latest techniques by taking refresher courses,” according to the Scrantonian article. “Just before her recent illness, she had been attending classes for area doctors at the Allied Services facilities along the Morgan Highway.”
Her knowledge and skill earned praise from other local dentists. In the Scrantonian article, Scranton District Dental Society President Dr. Stanley M. Goldberg called her “a grand lady who has unselfishly devoted her time and energy to the thankless task of the organization” and said she “has the admiration and respect of all of us.”
Elsie Cole died in April 1973, after a brief illness, according to her obituary in The Scranton Times. Her funeral was held at the then-Vanston Funeral Home at Ash Street and North Irving Avenue, just a block from where she lived most of her adult life.
ERIN L. NISSLEY is an assistant metro editor at The Times-Tribune. She’s lived in the area for more than a decade.
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