Who was Rosalind Franklin? Chelsea history

The discovery of the structure of DNA was one of the most important scientific achievements in the last century. The now famous double-helix is almost synonymous with James Watson and Francis Crick – they won the Nobel Prize for figuring it out. However, you may have heard that Rosalind Franklin’s data supported Watson and Crick’s idea, or that:

“She was a plain dressing belligerent scientist.”

That was actually how Watson described her in his book The Double Helix. Thanks to Franklin’s biographers who investigated her life and interviewed many people close to her, we now know that Watson’s account of her is far from the truth.

“Her Scientific contributions have been vastly underplayed.”

In her early years, she won a scholarship to Cambridge where she earned her PHD. She later conducted research on the structure of coal that led to better gas masks for the British during World War II.

Rosalind Franklin is commemorated with a blue plaque in Chelsea. If you’re in the area why not check it out for yourself!

The address is Donovan Court, 107 Drayton Gardens, Chelsea, London SW10 9QS,

By Abigail Opiah


Who was Lilian Lindsay? Holloway History

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

If you would like to support our proposal for Lilian’s plaque to be reinstated please contact English Heritage.

Lilian Lindsay’s blue plaque was formerly located in Holloway

3 Hungerford Road, Holloway, London N7 9LA, London Borough of Islington

Who was Dame Maud McCarthy? Chelsea history

You’ve heard of “The Lady of the Lamp” Florence Nightingale, heroine of the Crimean War. But have you heard of the legend that is Dame Maud McCarthy?

Australian-born Dame Maud McCarthy was the most senior nurse during the First World War and before that, she was awarded the King’s and Queen’s medals as well as a special decoration from the Queen for her efforts during the Boer War (1809-1902).

After the outbreak of the First World War, Dame Maud McCarthy left for France and was appointed Matron-in-Chief of the British Armies in France. This meant she was in charge of over 6,000 nurses.

Her efforts put her right at the heart of the First World War on the Western Front. She was awarded the Florence Nightingale medal in 1918; the highest achievement received by a nurse.

Watch the video below to see more of this brave woman!.

Dame Maud McCarthy is commemorated with a blue plaque in Chelsea. If you’re in the area why not check it out yourself!

The address is

47 Markham Square, Chelsea, London SW3 4XA,

By Abigail Opiah and Folayemi Olorunselu

Who were the McMillian Sisters? Bromley history


Christians. Socialists. Activists. Who were the Mcmillan sisters?

Today we celebrate two Virago women.

The Mcmillan sisters, Rachel and Margaret Mcmillan,  were christian socialists and educationalists who campaigned for the improvement of education and health for poor children in the early 1900s.

By 1910 they had relocated from Bow to Deptford (one of London’s more deprived areas) The clinic provided dental and medical care. The children were generally debilitated and 80% had rickets. In 1911 the clinic moved to Evelyn House, a small nursery and baby camo was establishshed in the garden. Within a few weeks of opening its doors, the school had 30 children.

By the start of WW1 the sisters approached the government, offering to take the children of married women working in the munition factories.

For this their school received a grant 7D (3p in today’s currency) for each child.

Prior to the opening of this school children were often left to play and roam the streets or tenement housing.

The school was established initially for only 6 children but by the summer 29 children lived at the school.
Rachel died on her birthday 25th March 1917 and the school was renamed in her honour. Her sister continued to fight for better childrens education and health until her death in 1931.

Clink the link below to see exactly how the sisters revolutionised childcare.

Margaret McMillan Rachel McMillan

The McMillan sisters are commemorated with a blue plaque in BromleyThe McMillan sisters are commemorated with a blue plaque in Bromley. If you’re looking for things to do in the area why not check it out yourself! The address is

51 Tweedy Road, Bromley, BR1 3NH

By Azana Francis

Who was Lady Nancy Astor? Westminster history

“I wanted the world to get better and I knew it couldn’t get better if it’s going to be ruled by men. Matter of fact, I think it’s amazing how well the men did for 2000 years considered they tried to do it alone!” – Lady Nancy Astor (1879 – 1964)

Who better to say such a bad-ass statement than the first female MP in British history?! Lady Nancy Astor defied the odds by achieving the great feat of becoming the first female MP to take a seat in the House of Parliament.

She fought for her husband’s old seat as MP for Plymouth Sutton and won with 51% of the vote! She fought for women and children’s rights alongside fellow virago woman Margaret McMillan.

Watch the video below to find out more about this remarkable woman!

Nancy Astor’s blue plaque is in Chelsea- if you’re looking for things to do in the spare why not check it out yourself! The plaque can be found at

4 St James’s Square, St James’s, London SW1Y 6JU, City of Westminster

By Folayemi Olorunselu

Who was Violette Szabo? Stockwell history

Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell (26 June 1921 - 5 February 1945) was a British Secret Agent during World War 2.

She dedicated her life to the French Resistance by joining the SOE (Special Operations Executive) at a young age. Her efforts during the war put her in the heart of the war and she did many of the things her male counterparts would do!

Violette’s missions would take her to Nazi-Occupied France where she would help rescue captured comrades, until she was captured by the Germans and executed in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp on the 5th February 1945.

She was the second woman to be awarded the George Cross for bravery. Her legacy is commemorated at her home in 18 Burnley Road, Stockwell, London SW9 0SJ, London Borough of Lambeth.


By Folayemi Olorunselu

Who was HD: Hilda Doolittle? Camden history

Portrait image of Hilda Doolittle black and white
Blue Plaque commemorating bisexual trailblazing female poet H.D. - Hilda Doolittle, a feminist inspiration. Plaque is in Camden
The blue plaque that commemorates feminist poet H.D., Hilda Doolittle. We think Hilda Doolittle is a truly inspirational woman, if you’re in Camden and looking for things to do why not check it out!

Hilda Doolittle is one of the 13% of London’s blue plaques that feature women, and she was pretty incredible.

A feminist, a bisexual, a trailblazer.

Find out more about HD’s life, and her work as a poet, translator and author with this short video

which features pictures from HD’s own scrapbooks.


HD’s plaque is in Camden- see the plaque for yourself at

44 Mecklenburgh Square, WC1

Feeling inspired? Want to read some brilliant poetry by women? You’re in luck, check out our very special analogy of inspirational poems for and by Virago women, from Rupi Kaur to Sylvia Plath by way of Adrienne Rich. There’s something for everyone – check it out here.

If you liked this post, you might also like our tribute to the poet, author, feminist and civil rights campaigner Maya Angelou, who would have been 90 years old this year. Check it out here.


By Rose Nugee

Who was Sylvia Pankhurst? Chelsea history

Sylvia Pankhurst dedicated her life to fighting oppression and injustice. She was an English campaigner for the suffragette movement.

Sylvia wrote extensively and led a suffragette march in 1913 in Trafalgar Square. She was imprisoned many times for her involvement and endured many months of thirst, hunger and sleep strikes in Holloway Prison.

A blue plaque honours her in Woodford, where she lived for 30 years with her Italian anarchist partner Silvio Corio.

Watch our video about this Virago woman to find out more about her !

Why not check out Sylvia Pankhurst Blue Plaque yourself? The address is

120 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London SW10 0ES


By Justine Chalabi

Who was Elisabeth Welch? Kensington and Chelsea history

She is only the second black woman to be commemorated with a blue plaque in London. Find out more here:

Elisabeth Welch, a pioneer and a trailblazer for Black women in the UK.

The American born songstress and entertainer began making her mark in the US with performances in African American broadway theatre shows.

She contributed to the popular dance “the Charleston”, later performed by fellow icon Josephine Baker.

Elisabeth continued to leave her mark around the globe and it was in the UK she settled and became a trailblazer for black women everywhere.


Her legacy is commemorated at her flat in Ovington Court, Chelsea.

Why not check out her blue plaque for yourself! Her plaque can be found at

Ovington Court, Ovington Gardens, off Brompton Road, Kensington, London SW5 1LB,

By Folayemi Olorunselu

Who was Lilian Baylis? Lambeth history

Picture of the feminist icon and inspirational woman Lilian Baylis’s Blue Plaque
Picture of the feminist icon and inspirational woman Lilian Baylis’s Blue Plaque
Lilian Baylis managed the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres and laid the foundation for both the National Theatre and the English National Opera. For most of her management career she lived at 27 Stockwell Park Road in Lambeth.

Lilian Baylis’s Blue Plaque is in Lambeth. We think she’s a truly inspirational woman. If you’re in the area and looking for things to do, why not check it out!

Lilian Baylis was a theatrical producer and manager. She managed the Old Vic and provided the starting point for the formation of Britain’s Royal ballet, opera and theatre companies.

Baylis founded the Vic-Wells company which nurtured major stars’ careers such as Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Vivien Leigh, Peggy Ashcroft and Flora Robson.

Today, her legacy remains at the Lilian Baylis Technology School, in London, named in her honour.

Lilian Baylis’s Blue Plaque is in Stockwell, if you’re in the area why not check it out!


You can see her plaque for yourself at:

27 Stockwell Park Road, Stockwell, London SW9 0AP, London Borough of Lambeth

By Justine Chalabi