Who was the first British woman dentist?

LILIAN LINDSAY 1871 – 1960

Interviewed in 1945 and reflecting on her career in dentistry, Lilian Lindsay (nee Murray), told a newspaper reporter that there was still prejudice against women dentists. However, compared with the fight she’d had to get started in the profession there’d been considerable improvement and she thought that the war (World War Two) had been a significant cause of changing attitudes.

Asked to describe the attributes of a successful dentist, Lilian replied that a good constitution, good eyesight and a skilful pair of hands were what was needed.  She explained that good health was necessary because of the long hours standing up but that knack rather than force was required when drawing teeth.

From an early age Lilian had been determined to become a dentist.

 After she left school she completed a three year dental apprenticeship with a family friend. However, her application to study at the Dental School in London was rejected by the principal on the grounds that as a woman she would distract the other students from their work.

Lilian managed to secure a place at the dental school at Edinburgh Dental Hospital and qualified as a dentist in 1894. She joined the British Dental Association the following year and returned to London to work until she’d paid off her student debts. She married fellow dental student Robert Lindsay in 1905 returning to Edinburgh to join her new husband’s dental practice.

In 1920, Robert was appointed Secretary of the British Dental Association and the couple gave up their dental practice, moving to London where Lilian became the librarian for the Association. Lilian built up an extensive collection of books and artefacts relating to dentistry at the Association’s library and became ever more knowledgeable about the subject.

Robert died in 1930 but Lilian continued in her work at the library culminating in her appointment as President of the British Dental Association in 1945.

Lilian Lindsay became the first woman president of the British Dental Association fifty years after qualifying as the first woman dentist in Britain.

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