In 1897, at Stoney Creek Ontario, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless’ dream of an organization to help women learn to better manage their homes and be more effective in preparing their children for the future came to fruition with the founding of the first Women’s Institute.
Designed as both a place of learning and a source of friendship, it brought together the women from the countryside where they could share their knowledge and bring other women to teach them what they could not find for themselves. Whether it was how to make better bread, to preserve food, or to learn of remedies for children’s illnesses, understood by other members, but new to newer mothers, this was welcomed by all who attended. As well, in the early days of settlement in rural Canada, it helped to assuage the loneliness and sense of isolation that many women faced. But most importantly, it included ALL the women of the area, without the divisions brought by different faiths, personal opinions on politics, or the barrier of racial differences.
The Women’s Institute was a bright new innovation, created in Canada, by a Canadian woman, who was ably assisted by Mr. Erland Lee of the Ontario Farmer’s Institute. Initially designed for rural women, over the years women from all walks of life have joined to help themselves, as well as others and to help address the needs of their individual communities. Mrs. Hoodless believed that the education of women should be directed toward “a special attention to sanitation, a better understanding of the economic and hygienic value of foods and fuels, and a more scientific care of children with a view to raising the general standard of the life of our people.”
What was a dream for Mrs. Hoodless was now a reality; and in the time since 1897, millions of women, here and abroad, have joined together to build their own area of their country, and to assist others at home and overseas. The friendship factor should never be overlooked: this is the hallmark of an organization that some joined “because it was there” and the longer they remained members, the more dedicated they became. There must be something very right about an organization that records individual memberships of 50, 60 and 70 years duration!
So, where is Mrs. Hoodless’ dream today? Does that flame burn as brightly in 2016 as it did in 1897? 1916? As the rural communities shrink as farms become larger, and the rural population declines as more rural people migrate to the cities, this has become an issue. In some areas it does, yes. In others it is a little dimmer, but in the developing world, where there is still the need for friendship and the outreach of a helping hand, yes, the flame burns as brightly as over a hundred years go. Mrs. Hoodless’ plan has circled the world, as women in the under developed nations accept the model and adjust it to their own needs. This has produced cooperative organizations where the women produce and sell farm produce, local crafts and numerous other items, and thereby help to support their families and their local villages.
So in this February 2016, as we mark the 119th Anniversary of the founding of the Stoney Creek Women’s Institute at Stoney Creek, Ontario, we should all offer a salute to Adelaide Hoodless. She had the foresight, the determination, and above all, the dream of the Women’s Institute, her legacy to women everywhere. She gave women the courage to step out from the shadow of their husbands and learn to be a full partner in marriage and in the care of their families.
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