Dr Eva Handley-Read

womenasarmysurge00murr_0204 (3)
Eva, at work in the Endell Street Military Hospital during WW1[1]
Dr Eva Handley-Read, 54, (1878-1965) the daughter of a dentist, was one of the country’s first trained woman dental surgeons and a campaigner for women’s advance into the profession. She has been termed a militant suffragette, supporting action though I can find no evidence of her taking direct action herself (though that is no disqualification!). From 1915 to 1919 she worked with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson at the Military Hospital, Endell Street. Here she was known as “the dental surgeon whose skill in extraction was considered marvellous, never failed to thrill the men, and she was eagerly pointed out to friends and visitors.” Her husband Edward Harry Handley-Read was a noted artist.

Open wide chaps?


We have posited (see Claribel Spurling’s page) that she might be seated between Alys Russell and Hélène Reynard.  But she would doubtless have been good company for all on this table.  Perhaps the most common interest would have been with fellow surgeon Alice Benham but talking shop was perhaps not the best way to enjoy the evening.


Eva is getting close to retirement and perhaps is looking forward for a time to reminisce on achievements and to still be ready to debate what more needs to be done.


Eva Mary Handley was born in Stoke Newington (No. 15 Stoke Newington High Street – now a new police station) in September (?) 1878 (baptised 29.9.1878) the sixth child of Eliza Ursula Croft, 1842-1908 (London born, father from Bedfordshire) and Charles Handley (1843 – 7.3.1931), a dentist. When she was 22, a dental medical student, the family had moved a little down the road, on the other side. The building is still standing. Eva was educated at Abney Park College and at the London School of Medicine for Women.

At 31 Eva married artist Edward Harry Read, 41, a widower, of 8 Camden St. Studios, Camden Town, on 1st June 1911, in Kingston, where she was then living, at The Limes, Anglesea Road. He took the name Handley-Read by deed-poll.[2] Their son Charles, born in Steyning in 1916, also went on to be an artist.[3]

Eva has been termed a militant suffragette but evidence seems hard to find. She did speak at and hosted a meeting at home in 1913 for the Women’s Tax Resistance League and in 1909 was one of many doctors who signed a Memorandum to Asquith on the dangers of forced feeding (other signatories included Dr Louisa Martindale, Louisa’s business partner Mary C. Murdoch, and Eva’s sister, E.M. Croft Handley.

womenasarmysurge00murr_0204 (2)
Eva, at the Military Hospital Endell Street? – from Flora Murray’s “Women as Army Surgeons”

Professionally, Eva was the first woman dental surgeon, at the Royal Free Hospital and was the third woman to become professionally qualified in dentistry in the UK, in 1901, six years after the pioneering Lilian Lindsay and Ruby Grace Halliday first qualified in 1895. From 1915 to 1919 she worked with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (herself the first woman to qualify as a physician and surgeon) at the Military Hospital, Endell Street, in the old St Giles Workhouse. Here she was known as “the dental surgeon whose skill in extraction was considered marvellous, never failed to thrill the men, and she was eagerly pointed out to friends and visitors.” (from ‘Women as Army Surgeons’). [4] [5]

Like many of the pioneers of their profession at the dinner, Eva campaigned for more women to take up the opportunities they were also pursuing. In 1913 the Vote paper summed up Eva’s campaign and the opportunities for women in dentistry, well, citing the training opportunities, the expected salaries, and making international comparisons:

Vote – Friday 07 November 1913

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 1913 WOMEN IN INDUSTRY. The Need for Women Dentists.

There is an opening for women as dentists, and it is stated that parents find their children go much more readily to a woman dentist than to men. A good post was going begging because there were no applications for it. The whole field of medicine is well represented to-day by women from medicine to surgery, with, perhaps, this one unnoticed corner of dentistry. Dr. Eva Handley-Reid,[sic] one of the few qualified women dental surgeons practising in London, has given some information on the subject to an inquirer. She says: “There is every encouragement to women to enter the ranks of dentistry, one of the few professions not overcrowded. A woman student needs to be possessed of a strong physique, good courage, and plenty of patience, and here is a profession full of scope waiting for her. The probable fees Dr. Handley-Reid [sic] puts at £300 with the cost of living during the four or five years of study, and this should cover all the necessary expenses. There are also bursaries and scholarships to be had which would materially help the clever, successful candidate. She advises every student to add medicine to her dentistry, since the better equipment gives a larger outlook, produces a more skilled and efficient worker, and wins for her a superior locus standi. Training can now be obtained at the National Dental Hospital, the Royal Free Hospital, and the London School of Medicine for Women. The number of qualified women dentists in London might well be reckoned at under a dozen, and Dr. Handley-Reid [sic] cannot think why women have fought shy so far of this branch of surgery. Of late a much greater interest has been awakened in the need for more care respecting children’s teeth; health centres for dental clinics are now being established in town and country, and it is here the need for young women dentists is being felt. The position of clinic dentist is often remunerated by a salary of £250 a year, so the payment is good, and viewing the matter on the social side, the value of the trained woman beside the dental chair of a School Health Centre, cannot be over-estimated. In Russia, Germany, and Italy students of dentistry present themselves in equal numbers, and the Strasburg clinic numbers on its staff four women out of a total of nine dental operators.[6]

In 1914 Votes for women highlighted in particular Eva’s contribution to a new Fabian Woman’s Group book ” Women Workers in Seven Professions” on the professional opportunities for women:

Votes for Women – Friday 15 May 1914

COATS & SKIRTS NEW BOOKS PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S WORK! The Fabian Woman’s Group has undertaken to collect and publish this series of essays, with a view to getting first-hand evidence as to the conditions under which the professional woman works and the salary paid her. This survey of the field of woman’s labour in the professions dealt with only emphasises the more the need of her political emancipation and economic independence ; and, of course, whatsoever the profession, we find almost always the 3 woman gets paid less for her work than her male colleague.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this book is the section devoted to medicine and surgery by Dr. Christine Murrel and Eva Handley-Read, L.D.S. Owing to the heroic battle fought by the pioneers in this profession, women have here in some respects a much better financial position than in any other. It would be amusing, however, were it not for the just indignation it arouses, to notice the lengths to which public authorities will go in their endeavour to give men preference both in position and in the salaries paid. It is often quoted against the principle of equal pay for equal work that men have others dependent on them, whilst women work only to support themselves.[7]

The dental profession itself was itself changing rapidly.  In 1921 rules tightened to ensure all dentists were properly qualified, and the training of women became urgent as many dentist went to war (either to practice or to fight).  The war itself revealed just how poor was the state of the nation’s teeth.  This was a rapidly advancing profession – though it is only now that the number of women practising has equalled the number of men.  Change came slowly over the years – as in some many areas with respect to gender. [8]

Her practice in the 20s and 30s was at 79 Harley Street. Since 1916 they had a house at Steyning, Sussex and in 1929 were living at Chantry Lodge, Storrington, Sussex (not to be confused with Chantry House, Steyning the home of the Heald sisters, Table 9). Her father died at Twitten, Steyning, on 7th March 1931.


One year after the dinner, Eva retired to Steyning, in 1934. She played an active part in her local community, even before retirement, supporting the creation of a Social Welfare centre, with a focus at the beginning on baby and maternal welfare. Her husband Edward died in 1935, on 6th December 1935, at The House of Steps, 41 High St, Salisbury. Eva died in 1965 at Twittenside, Bramber Road, Steyning and was buried (or just a memorial tablet?) with her parents and siblings in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Eva grave.jpg


[1]  This online issue of dental review news suggest this is Eva.  https://www.dentalreview.news/people/60-dental-company-profiles/5672-celebrating-women-in-dentistry

[2] Worthing Gazette, Wednesday 11.12.1935, p13

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Handley-Read

[4] From ‘Women as Army Surgeons’ cited in Steyning Museum Newsletter, June 2018, p 5

[5] Flora Murray, Women as Army Surgeons, Cambridge University Press, 20.3.2014 

[6] Vote – Friday 7.11.1913 page 9

[7] Votes for Women, Friday 15.5.1914 p7

[8]  I published a paper in January 2020 on the first 30 women to qualify as dentists from the Royal Dental Hospital, in Dental Historian, Vo. 65 (1) January 2020, the journal of The Lindsay Society ( The History of Dentistry).

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