Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Health Care

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professionals, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington Women in Health Care has been immense. From Florence Keen to marie Stopes, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 3 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Florence Keen (1868 – 1942)

Founder of the North Islington Welfare Centre

Florence KeenMrs Florence Keen founded the North Islington Welfare Centre and School for Mothers in Holloway, Islington in 1913.

Florence Keen (née Hield) was born in Leeds, Yorkshire and, later, was a resident of Highgate, London. She married William Brock Keen, an Islington-born accountant, in the borough in 1887. The North Islington Infant Welfare Centre and School for Mothers was founded in 1913 by Florence and other local women at a time when the infant mortality rate in the borough was 110 per 1000 births. It was intended to be a ‘school for mothers’, offering help and advice on the correct methods of childcare to less privileged mothers.

With Florence acting as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, the Centre first opened at the Presbyterian mission hall in Elthorne Road, Holloway in 1913, with a voluntary doctor and a nurse weighing and examining 12-15 babies one afternoon a week.

In 1915 the Welfare Centre moved to more suitable premises at 9 Manor Gardens. The following year the adjoining house at number 8 was also leased. The Centre offered dental and eye clinics, massage, ‘artificial sunlight’ treatment for rickets, training for infant welfare students and the provision of home helps.

Florence Keen said in 1917 that “the school [Centre] in so far as it was concerned with the wives and children of soldiers was definitely involved in war work.” During the conflict the Centre began to receive letters from husbands at the front expressing their appreciation for the care offered by the Centre for their families. Sadly, Florence Keen’s two elder sons, both captains in the 1/7 Middlesex Regiment, were killed in the war: Arthur in 1917 and William in 1918. They had both been subscribers to the Centre.

Florence died in Oxted, Surrey in 1942 aged 73 years.

The organisation, now known as the Manor Gardens Welfare Trust, continues to provide community healthcare in Islington.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Florence Keen can be seen outside the former North Islington Welfare Centre at 6-9 Manor Gardens, Holloway.

Lilian Lindsay (1871-1960)

The first qualified female dentist in Britain and the first female president of the British Dental Association

Lilian Lindsay
    (Image: British Dental Association)

Lilian Lindsay was born Lilian Murray in Hungerford Road, Holloway, London  in 1871. She was the daughter of a musician, and the third of eleven children. She was educated at Camden School for Girls, and won a scholarship to the North London Collegiate School.

Against advice, Lilian decided upon a career in dentistry. However, the Royal College of Surgeons refused to admit women to its medical courses, and when she applied to study at the National Dental Hospital in London, she was interviewed unsuccessfully on the pavement outside; women were not allowed in the building!

She left England in 1892 to study at Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School, where she qualified with honours in 1895 and where she met her future husband and fellow student. Robert Lindsay. She returned to Islington to set up a successful dental practice at 69 Hornsey Rise, Upper Holloway. After she and Robert were married in 1905 at St Luke’s Church in Hillmarton Road, the couple relocated to Edinburgh to set up a practice with her husband. In 1920 the Lindsays retired from dental practice and moved back to London. They moved into a flat above the headquarters of British Dental Association (BDA) at 23 Russell Square for the next 15 years. Lilian took a new role as Honorary Librarian at the BDA and curated the country’s first dental library. It became a resource for students and practitioners, containing over 10,000 volumes.

Lilian also took a serious interest in the history of dentistry, writing A Short History of Dentistry (1933) and over 50 journal articles. She remained in London during the Blitz, stating that she could not work away from the library.

Lindsay became the first female President of the BDA in 1946, and in the same year was awarded an OBE. She spent her final years in Oxford, Suffolk, and died in 1960 at the age of 88.

  • An English Heritage plaque to Lilian Lindsay can be seen outside the former Russell Square home. The plaque was originally installed at her Islington birthplace (now demolished) in Hungerford Road.

Marie Stopes (1880-1958)

Pioneer of sex education and birth control

Marie StopesMarie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes was born in Edinburgh in 1880. When she was six weeks old her family moved from Scotland to London.

Marie trained as a scientist at University College London but the failure of her first marriage led her to study sex education and contraception.

In 1918 she published a controversial but popular book, ‘Married Love’, and in 1921, she opened the first birth control clinic in Britain in Marlborough Road, Holloway. The clinic, which remained there until 1925, offered free services and advice to married women. Marie Stopes International now operates in more than 30 countries.


Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) 

Back to Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women( 1547-2021) main page


Compiled by the Friends of Islington Museum / Islington Heritage Service (March 2021)

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