London has lost one of it’s few blue plaques that celebrates a woman
As our faithful readers/subscribers, you know that us here at Virago are all about shouting out the achievements of women. Part of that has been our focus on the blue plaque scheme. Only 13% of London’s blue plaques commemorate women and we’re working on profiling them all.
So you can imagine our shock and horror when we went to visit the plaque of Miss Lilian Lindsay’s, only to discover that the plaque itself and the building it was on were both gone.
After some researching we found out that blue plaques only “survive in a form that the commemorated person would have recognized” so while the fate of Lindsay’s plaque seems uncertain, we thought we’d take the time to celebrate her life and achievements here on our blog!
Who was Lilian Lindsay? The UK’s first qualified female dentist who fought against the odds for her right to learn and practise.
Women were excluded from dentistry as they were not permitted to obtain the qualifications.
Lilian Lindsay was born in 1871 and lived at a time when dentistry was an overwhelmingly male profession. Women were excluded from dentistry as they were not permitted to obtain the qualifications.
As a result Lilian’s school teacher encouraged her to become a teacher which was regarded as a more conventional career for a woman.
When Lilian refused and insisted on following her career in dentistry her teacher then revoked her scholarship.
Now without the funds to pursue her career, she found a three year apprenticeship in dentistry, she would later register as a dental student.
When she applied to the National Dental Hospital in London, the dean insisted on interviewing Lilian on the street.
The dean was concerned that having a woman around his male students would become a distraction.
….needless to say he refused to accept her as a student.
At the time Scotland was more advanced than England in allowing women entry into University, so Lilian headed to Scotland and applied to Edinburgh Dental school. She was accepted. Although it was acceptable, Lillian still received her fair share of sexism, Scottish surgeon Sir Henry Littlejohn reportedly said
” I am afraid madame, you are taking the bread out of some poor fellow’s mouth”.
Lilian would be the only female student but she never let this distract from her success.
She was awarded the Wilson medal for dental surgery and pathology. After she qualified in 1895, she returned to London and set up a dental practice with financial assistance from her uncle and a further loan. She married Robert Lindsey who she had met ten years earlier at dental school, they moved back to Edinburgh and practiced dentistry together. In 1920 her husband Robert became secretary of the British Dental Association (BDA) and moved back to London.
Lilian became an honorary librarian at the BDA, she contributed to dental history by collecting dental books and dental items that became the foundation of the dental museum.
Lilian then went on to become the first female president of the BDA in 1946.
She received many honors and awards, including an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh.
Despite overwhelming odds: sexism, financial difficulties and a lack of faith from those around her, Lilian Lindsay fought and won for her right to practise the career she loved. That’s pretty inspirational.
By Azana Francis
Video produced by Justine Chalabi