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LAMOTHE, MARGUERITE (baptized Marie-Josephte-Marguerite-Mathilde) (Thibaudeau), social reformer and philanthropist; b. 6 May 1853 in Montreal, daughter of Guillaume Lamothe and Marguerite de Savoye, and granddaughter of Joseph-Maurice Lamothe*; m. there 9 Dec. 1873 Joseph-Rosaire Thibaudeau (1837–1909), and they had two daughters; d. there 4 Oct. 1939 and was buried in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery.

Marguerite, known as Loulou by her close family and friends, grew up in a Montreal that was expanding quickly, and her childhood was one of privilege. Her father was a militiaman who would be appointed Montreal’s chief of police in 1861 and its postmaster in 1874. Like many other elite families, in the summer the Lamothes left the city for the surrounding countryside, where the heat was less stifling, frequently staying at Arthabaska (Victoriaville).

Marguerite received a traditional Roman Catholic education from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and during her formative years she developed what would become a lifelong friendship with schoolmate Caroline Dessaulles*, who would later marry future Liberal senator Frédéric-Ligori Béïque.

The Lamothe home was certainly one of the most refined in the city and a venue for its elite to socialize, especially for those in Liberal circles. In her memoirs Caroline Béïque recalls staying with the Lamothes at their summer residence and meeting Wilfrid Laurier* for the first time at an evening salon hosted by their friend Édouard-Louis Pacaud*. These opportunities to witness and participate in political conversations undoubtedly had an effect on Marguerite, who was a very bright young woman.

In 1873 Marguerite married Joseph-Rosaire Thibaudeau at Montreal’s Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur Cathedral. The brother of Isidore* and Joseph-Élie* Thibaudeau, Joseph-Rosaire had been sent to Montreal from Cap Santé to manage the flourishing branch of the family’s lucrative wholesale firm. He was a widower and Marguerite became stepmother to his two-year-old son, De Blois.

The Thibaudeau brothers had a knack for business, and like so many other successful Montreal entrepreneurs, they had diversified their interests early on. By the end of the century, Joseph-Rosaire was playing a prominent role in the electricity (Royal Electric Company), cotton (Montreal Cotton Company), insurance (Royal Canadian Insurance Company), and banking (Banque Nationale) industries, as well as in the burgeoning Bell Telephone Company. A committed Liberal, he was an important adviser during the early years of confederation and in 1878 was appointed to the Canadian Senate by Alexander Mackenzie*. He also served as sheriff of Montreal beginning in 1890.

Marguerite and Joseph-Rosaire established their household in Longue-Pointe, located in the eastern end of the island of Montreal. As was the case for so many elite women of the time, Marguerite’s daily life revolved around managing the household and domestic employees, some of whom lived on site. In addition to her stepson, Marguerite raised her two daughters, Rita and Alice. She was expected to be both a social and administrative manager as well, organizing a busy social schedule. As a senator, Joseph-Rosaire went regularly to Ottawa, and as custom dictated, his wife accompanied him to such events as the annual opening of the Senate. Rita married lawyer Aimé Geoffrion*, and they had four children. Alice, who married Protestant doctor Robert Douglass Gurd, died giving birth to her second child in 1908. After Joseph-Rosaire died the following year, Marguerite moved in with her widower son-in-law to help raise his children.

In addition to her matrimonial and maternal activities, Marguerite led a very full life of charitable work and social activism. She dedicated much of her time, energy, and financial resources to supporting charities in Montreal and was connected to a wide range of causes. From about the late 1880s to the 1930s she served as a vice-president of the Orphelinat Catholique de Montréal, founded by Angélique Cotté (wife of Gabriel Cotté*), an aunt of her paternal grandfather. A director of the Parks and Playgrounds Association of Montreal, Marguerite was also a member of the Needlework Guild of Canada, founded by Charlotte Learmont [Smithers], and the ladies’ committee of the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada. As well, she was a patroness of the Hôpital Sainte-Justine for children and the Royal Edward Institute [see Jeffrey Hale Burland*]. Active in various cultural clubs, including the ladies’ branch of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal and the Women’s Historical Society of Montreal, Marguerite was also a member of the Montreal Central Women’s Liberal Club.

At the centre of Marguerite’s charitable work was the Notre-Dame Hospital [see Emmanuel-Persillier Lachapelle*], established in 1880. The first secular francophone hospital in Montreal, it provided a clinical-training facility for the faculty of medicine of the city’s Université Laval campus and was an important location of nursing education [see Élodie Mailloux]. It was run by a board of management, and professors directed medical services while the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montréal (Grey Nuns) took responsibility for nursing and administration. Joseph-Rosaire was a central figure in the creation of the institution, and from 1882 to 1895 he served as its president. In 1881 Marguerite was among the founders of an association of patronesses, which met with opposition from the Catholic clergy because of its secular nature. Marguerite would serve as the group’s treasurer from its inception to 1886, its president from 1887 to 1905, and an honorary president from 1911 to 1913 and 1918 to 1924.

Like many other ladies’ auxiliaries connected to hospitals and social-care institutions, the patronesses focused their efforts on fundraising and in-hospital volunteering, such as visiting with patients and organizing fêtes on special holidays. Their crowning achievements were the spectacular “kermesses” (fairs). The first was held in June 1884 at the Place d’Armes. For eight days the public enjoyed a festive atmosphere in big white tents where, amid music and flowers, the patronesses and their friends and family gathered at counters laden with foods and gifts. Other fundraising events included concerts, theatre productions, craft sales, and gymkhanas (equestrian competitions). In the first 40 years of the hospital, the patronesses raised more than $160,000.

Charity, like health care and education, was traditionally divided by religion in Montreal, with separate Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish institutions serving their respective communities. Already attracted to the secular vision of the Notre-Dame Hospital, Marguerite was among a group of women who saw a need for ecumenical cooperation. At the core was a common understanding of motherhood and the important role that women, as mothers, played in society. Building bridges across linguistic and religious lines, this form of maternalism was coupled with the concern of social reformers that charity, viewed as a spontaneous reaction to immediate problems, had created a cyclical pattern of addressing the symptoms, rather than the causes, of poverty. The solution to this problem, argued social reformers, was to create a systematic, scientific approach to benevolence.

Guided by the vision and enthusiasm of Lady Aberdeen [Marjoribanks], wife of Lord Aberdeen [Hamilton-Gordon], the newly appointed governor general of Canada, these ideas were put into action by the leading ladies of Montreal society, who in 1893 formed the city’s Local Council of Women, a branch of the National Council of Women of Canada. Grace Julia Drummond [Parker*] was elected the first president of the local council. Drummond, at the urging of Lady Aberdeen, was committed to opening the organization to all creeds and tongues and sought the support of both anglophone and francophone women in the city. Marguerite, who served as vice-president on four different occasions between 1893 and 1907 and as honorary vice-president from 1915 to 1921, was among the first to embrace the vision, and the patronesses of the Notre-Dame Hospital were the first francophone group to join the Montreal council in 1896. Marguerite’s private meetings with the Catholic clergy, including Paul Bruchési, helped conciliate the Catholic hierarchy, which had strong concerns about ecumenical cooperation. Her early enthusiasm for the council was encouraging to other Catholic women, many of whom joined within the first couple of years, including Joséphine Dandurand [Marchand*], Alphonsine Drolet, Margaret Josephine Hingston, and Marie-Louise Lacoste.

While maintaining her commitments to the local council and the Notre-Dame Hospital, Marguerite was also involved with the ladies’ branch of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. The women’s section was created in 1902 and renamed the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste five years later. Marguerite, Dandurand, Lacoste and her daughter Marie Gérin-Lajoie [Lacoste*], as well as Caroline Béïque were central figures in the formation of this group. The association espoused a Christian feminism that garnered the support of the Catholic Church. One of its major projects was to help fund a provincial training program for young women expected to become wives and mothers, which led to the establishment in 1906 of Montreal’s Écoles Ménagères Provinciales [see Jeanne Anctil*].

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Marguerite organized a women’s subcommittee of the Comité France-Amérique de Montréal, called Aide à la France, to help French victims of the war and their families, and she served as its president throughout the conflict. In massive efforts across the city and country, the subcommittee raised money to send material support to France and Belgium, including gifts of automobiles, mobile houses, and medical supplies. Marguerite personally organized a campaign to send watches to French troops, many of whom would respond with personal letters of gratitude to her in the years following the armistice. Marguerite also threw her support behind the Red Cross and was elected president of the French Canadian section in January 1915. She later worked diligently on behalf of the Canadian Patriotic Fund. For her efforts during the war, she received multiple honours, including the title lady of grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in England (1915) and the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française (1920).

Although she was never featured in the spotlight of the women’s suffrage campaign, Marguerite was involved with Quebec’s Provincial Franchise Committee, which formed in 1922 at the initiative of the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste. She participated as vice-president of the committee in the planning meetings for the delegation of 500 women that met with Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau* on 9 Feb. 1922 to express its support of the bill proposed by mla Henry Miles that would extend the provincial franchise to women. The committee faced a powerful and coordinated resistance from the Catholic clergy. In addition, it became clear that support for female suffrage among francophone women at the time was largely limited to Montreal. The committee suffered a defeat when the proposed bill never made it past the first reading. A younger generation of feminists, including Idola Saint-Jean* and Thérèse Casgrain [Forget*], would re-organize the movement and be instrumental in securing the provincial franchise for women in 1940, the year following Marguerite’s death.

Marguerite Thibaudeau died in 1939 at the Institut des petites filles de Saint-Joseph. She was remembered as a woman who gave endlessly and graciously to her community. In her memoirs Béïque wrote: “Mrs Thibaudeau was also a beauty. She had a distinguished and kind air about her that gave her a great charm. Despite these gifts, she remained simple and unpretentious, which was not an easy thing to do. Throughout her life she demonstrated great quality of character and excellent judgement. Despite numerous difficulties, she found a way to contribute, in a most remarkable way, to a major project, the organization of the Notre-Dame Hospital, of which she was really one of the founders.” Marguerite saw the many opportunities for service as a way of living out a Catholic faith that built bridges across linguistic, religious, and political divides, rather than allowing herself to be limited by sectarianism. Throughout her life she carefully navigated the tension between Catholic Church authority and her desire to see women play a more active role in society, often emerging as a formidable leader among her peers.

Elizabeth Kirkland

Ancestry.com, “Quebec, Canada, vital and church records (Drouin collection), 1621–1968,” Notre-Dame (Montréal), 6 mai 1853, 6 oct. 1939; Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur, cathédrale [Saint Jacques] (Montréal), 9 déc. 1873: www.ancestry.ca (consulted 14 April 2023). BANQ-CAM, P120; P653. Univ. de Montréal, Div. des arch., P0076. VM-SA, BM001-13-D218 (Mémoires de Guillaume Lamothe). Le Devoir, 9 févr. 1940. “Décès de Mme M.‑L. Thibaudeau,” Le Canada (Montréal), 5 oct. 1939: 6. Le Réveil (Montréal), 11 sept. 1898. Mme F.-L. Béïque [Caroline Dessaulles], Quatre-vingts ans de souvenirs (Montréal, [1939]). E.‑P. Benoît, Histoire de l’hôpital Notre-Dame, 1800–1923 (Montréal, 1923). J. D. Borthwick, History and biographical gazetteer of Montreal to the year 1892 (Montreal, 1892). Maryse Darsigny, “Du Comité provincial du suffrage féminin à la Ligue des droits de la femme (1922–1940): le second souffle du mouvement féministe au Québec de la première moitié du XXe siècle” (mémoire de ma, univ. du Québec à Montréal, 1994). M.‑C. Daveluy, L’orphelinat catholique de Montréal (1832–1932) (Montréal, 1933). Les femmes dans la société québécoise, sous la dir. de Marie Lavigne et Yolande Pinard (Montréal, 1977). Karine Hébert, “Une organisation maternaliste au Québec, la Fédération nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste (1900–1940)” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1997). Elizabeth Kirkland, “Mothering citizens: elite women in Montreal, 1890–1914” (phd thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, 2011). “Petite galerie canadienne,” La Rev. nationale (Montréal), 2 (1896): 593–94. A.‑M. Sicotte, Marie Gérin-Lajoie, conquérante de la liberté (Montréal, 2005). Types of Canadian women …, ed. H. J. Morgan (Toronto, 1903).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Elizabeth Kirkland, “LAMOTHE, MARGUERITE (baptized Marie-Josephte-Marguerite-Mathilde) (Thibaudeau),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 29, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lamothe_marguerite_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:


Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lamothe_marguerite_16E.html
Author of Article:   Elizabeth Kirkland
Title of Article:   LAMOTHE, MARGUERITE (baptized Marie-Josephte-Marguerite-Mathilde) (Thibaudeau)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2023
Year of revision:   2023
Access Date:   February 29, 2024