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Ethnic diversity in dental history

We've very few records of any early professionally registered dentists who were not from a white European or American ethnic background - probably because of prejudices of the time it's likely that there weren't many. It is also difficult to unearth information from the limited records that have survived. Of the ones we know about they had to struggle to be accepted in their chosen profession.

If you know of anybody, please tell us their story and help us to build a bigger picture.


 

​Ronald Moody – Jamaican-born dentist and modernist sculptor

Ronald was born in Kingston, Jamaica on 12 August 1900, the son of Charles Ernest Moody, a druggist and chemist. His siblings were brothers Harold, Charles, Ludlow and Lockley and sister Elise. Harold is well-known as the founder of the League of Coloured Peoples and a doctor who is remembered in Peckham today by Dr Harold Moody Park. Charles travelled from Jamaica to America where he qualified DDS at the University of Pennsylvania and then travelled to London to qualify LDS RCS in 1919. He decided to return to Jamaica in 1930 shortly before Ronald, who had arrived in London in 1923 to train as a dentist.

 

Whilst studying at King's College, London the young Ronald explored the British Museum and discovered its non-western art. His niece, Cynthia Moody speaks of the profound effect it had on him, of the "tremendous inner force, the irresistible movement in stillness, which some of the pieces possessed." He was influenced not just by African art and culture but also by the philosophies of India and China. He began to experiment with sculpting possibly using some of the techniques learned for carving teeth during his dental training. He would often use the grain of each particular piece of wood to bring out the images he was creating. Later in reaction to his experiences in a post-nuclear world he gravitated to using metal, concrete and found objects for his work. Despite his work as a sculptor he frequently went back to dentistry to supplement his income, working in central London.

 

During his lifetime and indeed after his death his works were exhibited to much acclaim, but in recent times he has become less well known. However, an auction of some of his works at Christie's in March 2021 showcased his talents and the prices realised were far in excess of their estimated price.

 

He died in London on the 6 February, 1984.

 

Although nobody followed him into the dental profession, several of his nieces and nephews were involved in medicine including Harold's daughter, Christina, LRCP MRCS who spent a lot of her life improving public health standards in Jamaica for which she was awarded the PAHO Award for Administration and his brother Ludlow's daughter, Pamela, MRCS LRCP MB BS who qualified from Birmingham Medical School and spent most of her working life based at Kidderminster Hospital.

 

Read an article in Dental Historian about Ronald Moody and his brothers.

 

Read about him as a sculptor on the Tate website


 

​Prakash Narain - the life and work of a Lucknow-born dentist

Dr Prakash Narain, dentist, musician and honorary BDA Museum curator was born near Lucknow in northern India on the 25th June, 1930 into a large family.

 

At around the age of 15 he became an “All India Radio Artist” and continued as a singer on the radio between 1945 and 1950 at what was a turbulent time in Indian history with independence from Britain, partition and its subsequent upheaval as a backdrop. He was not only a singer but also a talented musician who played the harmonium and tabla.


Ultimately deciding on dentistry as a career he graduated from the King George’s Medical College, Lucknow in 1953 although he kept up his musical interests by becoming the Secretary of the Lucknow University Music Society. Sports were also something he excelled in and he was captain of the basketball team at the medical college in 1952. After working as a house surgeon for two years he became a lecturer in “Periodontia and Radiology” at the university.


In 1956 he was accepted as a student at Guy’s, came to England and graduated from there LDS RCS (Eng) in 1958. He began his life as a dentist in the UK working in a group practice in London and continued in general practice until he retired in 1980, the owner of three practices around the London area and with a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Health. Despite living and working in London, he continued to keep in touch with and visit his family in India regularly.


In 1981 Archie Donaldson the curator of the BDA Museum at the time invited him to become his deputy curator. Both positions were volunteer unpaid posts but in 1985 he along with Dr Donaldson undertook a year’s course in the History of Medicine run by the Society of Apothecaries which showed the dedication of both to the Museum, its upkeep and its legacy.


Dr Prakash Narain in the BDA Museum, 1993 Later becoming sole curator Dr Narain worked in the Museum daily looking after the objects, answering research enquiries and showing the exhibits to visitors arriving from all parts of the world. He himself said that he particularly enjoyed showing the Museum to schoolchildren and answering their questions. As former Head of the Library, Roger Farbey wrote in an obituary for the BDA News, “Often to be seen in his laboratory technician’s coat, he was a very ‘hands on’ curator, who could often be seen in the Museum workshop mending or preparing objects for display.”


During his time at the Museum he undertook to give lectures on both medical and dental history in many places around the world but especially in India. In 1990 he was invited by the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Mangalore at Manipal, Dr Bhargava to speak to students and staff. 


In a short piece in the BDA News of April 1991 he describes talking “a little about the history of the BDA and the Museum” but then concentrating on “the development of the NHS in the UK”. This was followed by a lively discussion on health programmes in India and the Indian Dental Association. He was obviously a hit as he was then asked at short notice to give the “Siddiqui Memorial Lecture” at his alma mater, Lucknow Medical College for which he was presented with a commemorative plaque.


In 1994 he was given a Life Membership of the BDA in recognition of his work but did not retire from the Museum until 1999.


Knowing that he was ill, he returned to Lucknow at the end of his life dying there on 25th February 2005 leaving behind his wife Jean, their two daughters and two granddaughters.


His obituary declared “He was much missed [on his retirement] by patients and colleagues alike, who described him as warm and charming innately kind with a wonderful sense of humour”.


Joseph St Clair - bringing a taste of the Caribbean to Bristol

 

He married a girl from Bristol, Masie Stallard, and made a relatively good living in interwar Bristol.

 

As was common during that time, he pulled teeth at country fairs and was enterprising in selling his own brand of tooth powder, along with other herbal remedies based on Caribbean ingredients sent to him by his parents.

 

He was eventually banned from practising dentistry without a license, but he continued to work as a herbalist and with his wife, raised a family in the city.

 

Before the 19th century the practice of dentistry was still a long way from achieving professional status, but this was to change.

 

The first licences in dental surgery were awarded by the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1860, but it was not until 1921 that the wording of the Dentists Act changed to make it impossible to practise dentistry without an entry in the dentists register.

 

Joseph’s son, Reuben St Claire, became a prisoner of war at Stalag XXB during the Second World War.

An audiocassette recording of Reuben and Cleophus St Claire which includes recorded memories and 'spiritual' songs composed by Joseph St Clair is held by the Bristol Archives.

 

Read more about him based on an interview with his granddaughter, Dr Lindsay St Claire, herself a Chartered Health Psychologist.

 

Edward Tull-Warnock - a story of courage and achievement

One story we do know is of Edward Tull-Warnock, who we think may have been one of Britain's first black, qualified, professional dentists in 1912.

 

Edward Tull's early life: loss and adoption

Edward Tull was born in 1886, one of five children to Daniel Tull, a carpenter from Barbados and Alice, his English wife, in Folkestone in Kent. Alice died in 1895, and Daniel also passed away in 1897.

 

Edward and his brother Walter were placed in a children's home. Edward was then adopted in 1900, by Jeanie and James Warnock and moved to live in Glasgow.

 

Jeanie's brother, James Aitken was a dentist by trade, with a surgery in Glasgow's Gallowgate. James Warnock was a block-printer, a very skilled occupation, requiring manual dexterity, and he decided to switch careers and apprentice to his brother-in-law, as a dentist.

 

  

 

Photo left courtesy of the Finlayson Family Archive: Walter Daniel J Tull seated front middle, with (left to right) Lelillia (Cecilia, aka Cissy) Sarah A Tull, William Stephen P Tull, Edward James A Tull, Daniel Tull (father) and Elsie Alice E Tull. The photograph was taken following the death of their mother

 

Becoming a dentist: against the odds

The Warnocks' sent Edward (pictured right - photo courtesy of the Finlayson Family Archive) to Allan Glen Boys' School, one of the best academies in Glasgow – he played football (like his brother), and showed great academic aptitude, entering the Incorporated Glasgow Dental Hospital in 1906. He was an outstanding student, and won prizes for his operative work and general duties at the hospital.

 

He then went on to learn anaesthesia at the Royal Infirmary and graduated in 1910 with a Licentiate in Dental Surgery (LDS).

 

The greatness of his achievement cannot be under-estimated, at that time he would have probably been  the only black student in the hospital, and we imagine he may have faced a lot of prejudice and adversity.

 

Applying for his first job in Birmingham after qualifying, and in spite of '..taking the precaution of sending his photograph' to his new employer, when he arrived at the surgery, his employer is reported to have exclaimed: 'My God, you're coloured! You'll destroy my practice in 24 hours!'

 

Edward then decided to practice with his father in Glasgow and later Aberdeen, where he met his wife. Seven members of his extended family went on to become dentists, including his adopted cousin, Benjamina Aitken, one of Scotland's earliest female Licentiates in Dental Surgery (gaining her qualification in May 1929).

 

We have a copy of Edward's first entry onto the dentists' register in 1913.

 

In 1921 he wrote a letter in support of the first Dentists Act, then going through Parliament, applauding the move to professionalising the service and acknowledging the need for formal qualifications.

 

The beginnings of 'professional' dentistry

As a recognised 'profession' dentistry didn't get status until the late 1800s – in 1858, the Dental Hospital of London opened, the first clinical training establishment for dentists in Britain and the Medical Registration Act permitted the College of Surgeons to grant licences in dental surgery, with the first ones being awarded in 1860.

 

Prior to this, dentistry could be carried out by anyone who claimed to have the skills, leading to some interesting techniques and barbaric practices!

 

Scotland was slightly ahead of the curve when it came to taking qualifications seriously, in 1856, Dr John Smith, a surgeon-dentist, and later President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, was the first person to conduct a course on dentistry with instructions for medical students – and so it was fortuitous that the young Edward Tull ended up in Scotland and got his status.

 

His brother: Walter Tull, footballer and war hero

His brother Walter Tull (pictured right, with Edward - photo courtesy of the Finlayson Family Archive), also has an incredible story of courage and bravery.

 

He became the second black English professional football player, playing for Tottenham Hotspur in 1909 and later Northampton Town.

 

When war broke out in 1914 he joined the 'Footballers' Battalion' of the Middlesex Regiment.

 

Showing great bravery and aptitude he was promoted to Sergeant, fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

 

Despite military regulations forbidding 'people of colour' being commissioned as officers, he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1917.

 

He was tragically killed in action on the Western Front in March 1918.

 

A campaign to posthumously award Walter Tull the military cross is ongoing, and the #Tull100 campaign, a government and Lottery-funded initiative that took place during the centenary of his death used Tull's story to boost community cohesion and inclusivity.

 

Visit the Walter Tull Archive for further information.

 

Acknowledgements

With many thanks to dentist Mike Gow (a descendent of the Aitkens, related to the Tull-Warnocks) for information from their family archive and for the images in this blog

 

With thanks to the Glasgow First World War Archives, for their information on Walter and Edward Tull

 

Thanks also to biographer, Phil Vasili for his information on Walter and Edward Tull. He is continuing to research Edward's story.

 

 

Diversity and dentistry

We know that there are stark inequalities between ethnic minorities entering the professions. While a number of ethnic minority groups are well represented in the dental student population, analysis suggests that there is consistent under-representation of African-Caribbean students.

 

The BDA is undertaking research into how the professions can work together to widen access to dentistry. We believe it it not only a matter of social mobility and equal access, but it is also important that dentistry, and healthcare more generally, has a workforce that reflects fully the diversity of the communities it serves and cares for.


Find out more about our work on diversity and dentistry in our blogs.

Help us to build a more accurate picture of UK dental history

If you have/had a family member or have heard of dentists or members of the dental team whose story you feel should be known please tell us about it and help to build a truer picture of UK dental history.