COGSWELL, ALFRED CHIPMAN, dentist; b. 17 July 1834 in Upper Dyke Village, N.S., eldest son of Winckworth Allan Cogswell and Caroline Elizabeth Barnaby; grandnephew of Henry Hezekiah Cogswell*; second cousin of Isabella Binney Cogswell*; m. 8 Oct. 1858 Sarah A. Parker of Bangor, Maine, and they had two sons; d. 10 July 1904 in Wolfville, N.S.
Alfred Chipman Cogswell enrolled at Acadia College in Wolfville in 1849, but moved for reasons of health in 1851 to his parents’ farm near Portland, Maine. In 1852 he began a four-year apprenticeship under dentist Edwin Parsons of Portland, and on its completion he opened a dental office, first in Portland and then in Wakefield, Mass. On returning to Nova Scotia in 1858, he practised in Halifax for three years in partnership with Lawrence Edward Van Buskirk; he subsequently worked alone until he formed a partnership with John L. MacKay in 1867. In 1869 he studied at the Philadelphia Dental College, and he graduated with a dds that year. Cogswell returned to his practice in Halifax and became quite successful. He was later associated with his son Arthur Wellesley. An elder of St Matthew’s Presbyterian Church and a member of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, Cogswell was at one time a Dartmouth town councillor and was involved with several firms, including the Forbes Manufacturing Company Limited and the Dartmouth Electric Light Company. He frequently made voyages for his health, and circumstances strongly suggest that he suffered from tuberculosis. He was in poor health for three or four years before his death.
Cogswell’s importance lies in his activity in the campaign to establish dentistry as a self-regulating profession, which was achieved in Nova Scotia at a relatively late date. In 1869 Cogswell and other dentists petitioned the House of Assembly for an act which would grant them the power to regulate the practice of dentistry. Arguing that it was no longer simply a mechanical trade, the petition pointed out that dentistry embraced diagnosis and surgical and pharmacological therapy, which required sound medical knowledge, antiseptic technique, and the skills to administer general anaesthetics. An act for this purpose passed the assembly in 1870 but was turned down by the Legislative Council.
The failure of this attempt and of others in 1871 and 1883 is evidence that dentists had not achieved the expert status accorded physicians, who were granted self-regulation by the Medical Act of 1872. The reluctance of some politicians to accept the dentists’ arguments was increased by the efforts of dentist Louis De Chevry. From 1869 De Chevry offered discount rates in newspaper advertisements, and his speeches, which denounced reform-minded dentists, clearly influenced many legislators and their constituents. In 1871 some assemblymen thought that the proposed legislation seemed “aimed at one individual,” whom reformers wanted to drive out of practice in order to raise their fees. They noted that rates for dental services had “gone down by half” since De Chevry had begun to practise.
Other obstacles to organization were at least as significant. Formal training was available only outside Nova Scotia, and the majority of students were apprenticed to dentists in the province. The reform movement was led by a small group with degrees, whose goal of higher professional standards implied the division of practitioners by educational qualifications, and informally trained dentists were reluctant to support them. Cogswell conceded that a lack of “that assistance desirable from those in the profession” was partly responsible for the failure of the petition of 1883.
By 1891, however, the balance of power had shifted as the number of dentists holding degrees rose to half of those registering for practice. In that year the provincial government passed a bill incorporating a provincial dental association and giving it power to form a board which would set minimum standards of education, examine candidates, and issue licences. Cogswell was the first president of the board. He also served at times as co-editor of the Dominion Dental Journal, to which he contributed articles on dentistry in Nova Scotia and ethics, as well as personal reminiscences.
Several articles by Alfred Chipman Cogswell were published in the Dominion Dental Journal (Toronto): “Dentistry in the province of Nova Scotia – past and present,” 1 (1889): 55–57; “Professional advice,” 3 (1891): 49–50; “Ethics: a paper read before the Nova Scotia Dental Association, at their annual meeting, at Halifax, September 30th, 1891,” 4 (1892): 3–5; and “Dentistry: past, present and future,” 5 (1893): 169–76.
Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 20 Jan. 1869. Biographical review . . . of leading citizens of the province of Nova Scotia, ed. Harry Piers (Boston, 1900). Directory, Halifax, 1869/70. “Dr. A. C. Cogswell,” Dominion Dental Journal, 4: 1–2 (with engraved portrait of the subject opp. p.1). Eaton, Hist. of Kings County. D. W. Gullett, A history of dentistry in Canada (Toronto, 1971). E. O. Jameson, The Cogswells in America (Boston, 1884). “Legislation in Nova Scotia,” Dominion Dental Journal, 3: 117–19. K. M. Ludmerer, Learning to heal: the development of American medical education (New York, 1985). N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 15 March 1871. “Nova Scotia Dental Association” (report of first annual meeting by Frank Woodbury), Dominion Dental Journal, 4: 15–18. S. M. Penney, “‘Marked for slaughter’: the Halifax Medical College and the wrong kind of reform, 1868–1910,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 19 (1989–90), no.1: 27–51.