Mary Petersen, born in Brigham City in 1917, moved around with her family during her early years. She became interested in dentistry when she was about 11 years old, when her family drove from Wyoming to Salt Lake City weekly to have her braces tightened. She graduated from St. Mary’s of the Wasatch in Salt Lake City at 16, then attended the University of Utah for two years. She had heard about Dr. Ella Valentine, who by that time was practicing in Salt Lake City, and went to see her one day. Dr. Valentine encouraged 19-year-old Mary to go into dentistry, and she took the advice.1Oral History of Dr. Mary Petersen Reeder, October 8, 1985. Brigham City Museum.
There were just two girls in the class, but most of the male students were supportive. Some instructors were suspicious that the first women attending were simply there to snag dentists as husbands. Mary Petersen proved them wrong. Graduating from dental school in San Francisco in 1940, she returned to Utah and passed the Utah State Board exam. Just as she was about to set up an office in Tremonton, this first professionally educated woman dentist in Brigham City got a lucky break:
Dr. Marble called me and said,“I’ve got a practice that’s all going. I’m getting old, and I’d like to retire, and I’d like to sell it to you. I’ve got the chair all set up and all the office furniture and everything. If you’ll just come and take it over, I’ll leave one day, and you can take over the next.2Oral History of Dr. Mary Petersen Reeder, October 8, 1985. Brigham City Museum.
The office was upstairs in a building just west of the bank (Co-op) building. However, the lower floor housed a cannery, and the smells of cooking vegetables attracted flies, so “we closed it off and set off one of those bombs that kills flies, and I’ll bet they were an inch thick.” She practiced there for six years, then moved into an upstairs office next door in the bank building.3Oral History of Mary Reeder
She married Harold Reeder in 1946, and planned to quit working with the birth of her first child, but a babysitter convinced her otherwise, and so it went, up through five children. Although she had maintained her maiden name professionally, she changed to Dr. Mary Petersen Reeder to avoid confusion as she served in PTA. She worked approximately 25 years as a dentist. In retirement, she was a leader in many community organizations prior to passing away in 2005.