2021 Black365 Feature Dr. Vada Somerville
Vada Watson, was a bright, outgoing liberal arts major attending USC on a Los Angeles Times scholarship. Vada, a native of Pomona, was one of seven children born to Dora Watson McDonald, a family matriarch who had instilled in her offspring a strong social conscience and an appetite for achievement. There was a very real possibility that John Somerville would be drafted into military service, so Vada decided to study dentistry so that she could continue to treat his patients if he was called up. She enrolled in the USC dental school and, in 1918, became the school’s second black graduate. She then became the first black women to be licensed to practice dentistry in the state of California, and entered practice with her husband. She retired from dentistry in 1933 and became the leading light in the city’s civic and community organizations, serving on the executive boards of such groups as the Los Angeles League of Women Voters, the Council on Public Affairs, UCLA’s YWCA and the USC Half Century Club. Between Vada’s activities and those of her husband, the Somervilles hosted numerous friends and dignitaries, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Kenneth Hahn, Jesse Unruh, Augustus Hawkins, Mary McLeod Bethune, DuBois, William Pickins, Norma Boyd and Rosa Parks.
John Somerville retired in 1963 and lived another 10 years to the age of 91, surviving his wife by only a few months. Vada died in 1972 shortly after their 60th wedding anniversary. Today, portraits of the Somervilles hang in the dental school, reminders of what vision, ambition and perseverance can achieve. The inspiration they offer echoes the conviction contained in a more modest image that hung for many years in Somerville’s office and later in his den. Emblazoned across the center was an inscription that exemplified his life:”Do not wait for your ship to come in,” it read. “Row out and meet it.”