Black History Month Spotlight: Dr. Vada Somerville, Civil Rights Leader and Dentistry Pioneer

Every weekday this month, we’re profiling fascinating figures from L.A.’s Black history

For a running list of all our 2021 Black History Month profiles, click here.

Born in Pomona in 1885, Vada Watson Somerville was a civic leader in Los Angeles for more than 50 years. In 1913, together with her husband, John, she founded the L.A. chapter of the NAACP, and in 1918, she became the second Black person to graduate from the USC School of Dentistry (John was the first). The first Black woman to become a licensed dentist in the state of California, she was beloved by her patients, as was her husband. But despite their busy professional lives, the Somervilles were leading intellectual lights in L.A., and hosted luminaries including Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

In 1928, the couple opened the Hotel Somerville (later known as the legendary Hotel Dunbar), a luxury hotel catering to wealthy people of color. That same year, L.A. hosted the National convention of the NAACP at the hotel, which, sadly, the Somervilles lost during the Great Depression. Vada continued her work in education and civil rights, serving on numerous boards including the League of Women Voters, USC Half Century Club, and the Council of Public Affairs.

She died in 1972, only months before John, to whom she’d been married for 60 years.

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