Emma Casgrain, One of the First Women Dentists in Canada
Trained by her husband, dentist Henri-Edmond Casgrain, Emma Gaudreau Casgrain was one of the first female dentists in Canada. In another first, her husband owned the first automobile in the Province of Quebec.
Women working in dental offices in the 1800s were a common sight. They assisted the dentist with the patients and oversaw the office duties. Emma Gaudreau Casgrain did that too, helping her husband, Dr. Henri-Edmond Casgrain with his dental practice. Emma was not only assisting, she was learning. In 1898, Emma became Dr. Casgrain, one of the first Canadian women to receive a license to practice dentistry.
Emma Gaudreau was born on June 2, 1861 in Montmagny, Quebec, a small town on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. The Ursuline Convent in Quebec City was Emma’s place of early education, said Jean Marie Lebel in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online entry for “Henri-Edmond Casgrain”. Emma married Dr. Casgrain, 15 years her senior, and became his enthusiastic student.
Learned Dentistry from Husband
Working under her husband’s tutelage, Emma practiced the craft of dental care between the 1880s and 1890s. Henri-Edmond was an admired doctor of dentistry and dental surgery, inventing new methods and equipment to improve the practice of care. He received several patents including the design of an acetylene lamp, and a device that joined metals and aluminum, and sold a denture-making procedure he devised to an American company. “…visitors are astounded at all the instruments and improvements they see there,” said Lebel, speaking of Têtu’s comment on the Casgrain dental office. The Casgrain office must have had an exciting atmosphere in which Emma absorbed the techniques of good dentistry.
Had the young woman been practicing dentistry on her own, Emma no doubt would have been in trouble with the authorities for illegal activity. Since she was working in her husband’s office, “Mrs. Casgrain’s practice of dentistry was seen as acceptable,” said Tracy L. Adams in “Gender and Women’s Employment in the Male-Dominated Profession of Dentistry: 1867-1917”, from the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 35, 1998. Graduating from the Quebec College of Dentistry in 1898, Emma earned her licence to practice the dental arts. She was not only the first woman in Quebec to hold such esteemed designation, she was one of the first women in Canada.
Léon Bollée Automobile in Quebec
Dr. Emma Casgrain worked in the dental profession until 1920. Her husband was busy keeping the Casgrain name in the limelight aside from his inventions. Considered the first motorist in Quebec in 1897, Henri-Edmond owned a Léon Bollée, a three-speed gasoline-operated vehicle that reached the dazzling speed of 18 miles per hour. The interesting Henri-Edmond was, of course, mechanically-inclined and made significant changes to his new automobile. Weighing 330 lbs, the automobile had to be refuelled at lamp-oil retailers, since it was the only source of gasoline, according to “Ville de Quebec – An Era of Transformation (1867-1945)”.
The doctors Casgrain had no children. Henri-Edmond Casgrain died in 1914. Dr. Emma Gaudreau Casgrain passed away in 1934.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in 2010. Copyright Susanna McLeod