In this month, February 2017, as we look back through time, we must acknowledge the foresight and determination of Adelaide Hunter Hoodless and Erland Lee as they set out , 120 years ago, to found a new women’s organization.
Yes, there was a great need for more education for women, particularly rural women, who did not have the same opportunity for exchanging vital information as their town cousins had. Living in rural Canada, you had to be self-reliant in many fields: medical care, household management, preservation of foods and in some cares, the education of children.
Services were few and far between: the government had made some in-roads on supplying farmers with information on animal husbandry, which crops to grow, and so on. But for farm women there was no printed or oral materials on matters that concerned their daily lives. It was this lack of educational assistance that Mrs. Hoodless saw as a role the Women’s Institutes could fill in the rural areas. Those women who were proficient bakers and cooks were to share their expertise with others who were still learning. If you had some medical training, or experience, you were to assist those who had none. In later years, this idea was evident in 4-H Clubs where the members “learned to do by doing” but in 1897 it was a new idea. As with many new ideas or innovations, it was first scoffed at and derided, but some saw the merit in it and bent great efforts to see it implemented. One of those was Mrs. Hoodless.
At the request of the Ontario Department of Education, she wrote the first textbook for Home Economics courses to be taught in Ontario schools.
Further, she became involved with the matter of the lack nursing care in the sparsely populated areas of Ontario, and also in the large cities. With the cooperation of Lady Aberdeen and others, the first Canadian chapter of the Victorian Order of Nurses was founded, and began their career of caring for the ill. Mrs. Hoodless’ contribution to the education of rural women, as well as to the relief of the isolation and solitude of the lives of women on farms cannot be exaggerated. The monthly meetings became an event not to be missed – for their was much to learn, pleasure in meeting with and talking to other women, and the opportunity to laugh together. My own grandmother often spoke of the isolation and solitude she experienced in rural Saskatchewan when she and my grandfather homesteaded there in 1909. There were no other groups, no churches, sometimes no neighbours, and socializing was greatly missed by those who were among the first into a new area.
So in this 120th year of the Women’s Institute, we need to, as Betty Golata would say “Spread the Word!” and help address the new form of isolation that many women feel. In our cities there are women as lonely and marginalized as our female ancestors were. They, too, need a helping hand – let us reach out to them!
If you enjoyed this article, get email updates (it's free).