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First woman dentist honoured with blue plaque

'Lilian Lindsay's ground-breaking achievements became my inspiration and remained so throughout my career' – Margaret Seward

The first woman dentist to qualify in Britain is to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at her former London home.

Lilian Lindsay (1871-1960) will be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque this week at her former childhood home in Holloway, Islington, north London.

The plaque will be unveiled by Dame Margaret Seward, past president of the General Dental Council and past chief dental officer together with Margaret Murray, Lilian’s niece, at the house where Lilian Lindsay lived from 1872 until 1892 and where she first decided to become a dentist.

Dame Margaret Seward said: ‘As a newly qualified dentist in 1959, Lilian Lindsay's ground-breaking achievements became my inspiration and remained so throughout my career.

‘The English Heritage blue plaque is a wonderful tribute to an amazing pioneer in the dental profession. I am truly humbled to have been invited to unveil the plaque today and rejoice that all her struggles have been so richly rewarded.’

Lilian was determined to pursue her chosen career as a dentist and, after leaving school in 1883, she worked as an apprentice to a dental surgeon and became a registered dental student.

This was the first of many challenges Lilian faced in her early career. She tried unsuccessfully to enrol at the dental school of the National Dental Hospital in London, where she was interviewed on the pavement outside as women were not allowed to enter the building.

Thwarted in her aim of training in England – where the Royal College of Surgeons refused to admit women to its medical courses, including dentistry – she went to study at Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School.

It was there, on her first day, that she met her future husband Robert Lindsay, a fellow student.

Qualifying with honours in 1895, Lilian set up a dental practice at 69 Hornsey Rise, Upper Holloway, which proved commercially successful and she later set up a country branch. In 1905, she married Robert and the couple set up a dental practice at their new home in Edinburgh.

In 1920, the Lindsays retired from dental practice and moved to London, where Robert became dental secretary for the British Dental Association (BDA). Lilian found a new role as the BDA’s honorary librarian.

Over the course of 30 years, she succeeded in expanding the library from an initial bequest of 350 works to more than 10,000 volumes.

At the same time Lilian Lindsay became the first of her profession in Britain to take a serious interest in the history of dentistry, writing more than 50 journal articles and, in 1933, publishing A Short History of Dentistry.

By 1931, Lilian had become sub-editor of the British Dental Journal and, in 1946, published the first English language translation of the classic text by Pierre Fauchard, Le Chirurgien Dentiste (The Dental Surgeon). Her devotion to her research into dental history can be measured by her decision to remain in London during the Blitz, saying she could not work away from the library.

Lilian Lindsay was honoured by colleagues by being awarded the Tomes prize in 1946 and the Colyer gold medal in 1959 and was the first woman to be appointed a branch president of the BDA in 1933 and to be elected president of the BDA in 1946, the same year she was also awarded an OBE.

She spent her final years in Orford, Suffolk, and died in 1960, at the age of 88. Her name is perpetuated by the Lindsay Society, founded in 1962, which exists to promote the study of dental history.

Dr Susan Skedd, blue plaques historian, said: ‘Lindsay was a truly remarkable figure in her chosen discipline of dentistry. She successfully overcame the prejudices of her day to become the first woman to qualify and practise as a dentist in Britain.

'Moreover, she built on her pioneering achievement and earned the respect of her fellow dentists, who elected her the first woman president of the British Dental Association. It is hardly surprising she is regarded as “the mother of dentistry” in this country.’

 

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