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Lilian Lindsay, the first female dentist in the UK

Lilian Lindsay was born in London in 1871. From a young age she dreamt of becoming a dentist, despite it being an exclusively male preserve. A pioneer in several ways, she learned four languages and became an award-winning scholar as well as the first female president of the British Dental Association.

A bright student, Lindsay had been pushed by her teachers at the North London Collegiate School to become a teacher to the deaf and dumb. She disagreed with the path they had laid out for her and as a result she was denied a two year scholarship to the school, meaning she had to leave. Instead, she took on a three year dental apprenticeship, and then registered as a dental student. She applied to  the National Dental Hospital in London but was turned down, for fear of “distracting the male students.” It’s even said that Lindsay was forced to stand on the street while the Dean leaned out of the window to interview as women were denied entrance to the building.

Eventually, Lindsay was accepted by the Dean of the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School, although many staff were displeased with a woman joining their ranks. Sir Henry Littlejohn even went so far as to say “I am afraid, Madam, you are taking the bread out of some poor fellow’s mouth.” But Lindsay was not deterred. She excelled as the only female student at the school, and earned medals for both dental surgery and pathology, as well as therapeutics. In 1895 she became the first qualified female British dentist, and set up a practice at 69 Hornsey Rise, Upper Holloway, London. The practice proved successful, and after she married a fellow dentist, Robert in 1905, the couple set up their own dental practice in Edinburgh. In the 1920s, they retired and made their way back to London, where Lindsay found a new role as the British Dental Association’s honorary Librarian.

She found a passion for this role and over the course of several decades, Lindsay became the curator of the country’s first dental library, expanding it from an initial collection of 350 books and papers to more than 10,000 volumes. During this period she wrote over fifty journal articles on the history of dentistry (and published a book on the subject as well!) She even remained in London during the Blitz, refusing to leave the library and her work there.

Throughout her career Lindsay went on to further break down the boundaries of what was acceptable for women of the time, and today her name lives on as part of the Lindsay Society, founded in 1962, which promotes the study of dental history. She died in 1960 at the age of 88 and today an English Heritage Blue Plaque marks her childhood home, where she first decided on the path that would define the rest of her life.

Today we see many women in the profession, but it’s important to recognize that it hasn’t always been that way. In that vein, we salute the woman who made her way into dentistry against all odds, paving the way for those who followed. Our profession is all the better for their inclusion in it.

2017-05-01T10:14:20+01:00For Patients|
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