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Lilian Lindsay: a woman who didn’t take no for an answer

Written by: Sarah Carlin,Communications officer at the BDA
Published on: 6 Jul 2016

Lilian Lindsay: a woman who didn’t take no for an answer

Dentistry has quite a lot to celebrate in terms of the roles women have played in its development and also the huge contributions they make today in the profession. For International Women’s Day 2016, we are highlighting some of the inspiring women in our profession and also remembering those who forged the way, including the pioneering Lilian Lindsay.

Lilian Lindsay truly was a woman ahead of her time, becoming the first female to qualify as a dentist in the UK in 1895. She actually had to take her LDS in Edinburgh as no English dental school would accept a female.

In 1892 she had applied for entry to the National Dental Hospital in Great Portland Street. The dean, Henry Weiss, refused to admit her because she was a woman; he was so concerned that she would distract the male students that he interviewed her on the pavement outside the school. Undeterred she applied to the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School, and was accepted, although one of the Edinburgh staff, Sir Henry Littlejohn, said to her: “I am afraid, madam, you are taking the bread out of some poor fellow’s mouth.”

Many women at that time had to travel abroad to countries like America to be able to get their qualifications. It was not until 1912 that Lily Fanny Pain became the first women to qualify in England.

Lilian proved her detractors wrong, and during her time in Edinburgh she won the Wilson Medal for dental surgery and pathology and the medal for materia medica and therapeutics in 1894.

On qualifying in 1895, she then spent ten years practicing in London to pay off the bank loan that had enabled her to study. It must have been an astonishing thing for a woman to do at that time, and one can only imagine the barriers she faced to following her dream, as well as the daily challenge of being a ‘novel’ female dentist in a male-dominated profession.

In 1905, Lilian married fellow dentist Robert Lindsay, and this early ‘power’ couple went on to have influential roles in the start of the British Dental Association. She was the first women to become a member of the BDA and began a lifelong relationship with the BDA and a great proponent of the profession. Lilian became honorary BDA librarian until her retirement and Robert became the first BDA Dental Secretary in 1920.

Following Robert’s death in November 1930, Lilian then became the sub-editor of the British Dental Journal (BDJ) in 1931, a post she held for 20 years. She published 57 papers in the BDJ between 1925-1959 and in 1933 she published a book on the history of dentistry.

She was voted the first female president of the BDA in 1946 and she continued to work to expand and develop the BDA’s library until her death in 1960.

The Lindsay Society for the History of Dentistry was established in her memory, in 1962, with the aim of promoting the rich, and often little known, history of the dental profession.

You can admire this pioneering female’s portrait at the BDA’s London office, in the foyer, pop in, take a look and feel inspired!


Find out more about women in dentistry today or read more about female dentists through history, from ‘quacking aphrodites’ to ‘petticoat practitioners’!

The BDA Library is the most comprehensive dental library in Europe: access is free to BDA members.

The BDA Museum contains the largest collection of materials relating to the history of dentistry in the UK, including the infamous ‘waterloo teeth': the Museum is free and open to the public on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

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