The week surrounding Feb. 19 is Women’s Institute Week. This date in February marks the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Institute, held Feb. 19, 1897 in Ontario. Throughout the week, Women’s Institute members across Canada celebrate the founding of the organization and the impact the members’ volunteer efforts have made through the years.
As noted on the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario website, the story of how the organization came to be is one that resonates with women all over the world:
In the summer of 1889, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless lost her 14-month-old son from consumption of contaminated milk. Hoodless was staggered that her own education had not provided the knowledge needed to protect her household from such a tragedy. Thus began her tireless campaign, not only for clean milk, but for the education of girls and women in household management.
In the years following her son’s death, Hoodless promoted the importance of domestic science education in public schools. In 1896, she spoke at an agricultural conference at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph and made a lasting impression on one individual – Mr. Erland Lee. In February of 1897, Lee invited Hoodless to speak at a Farmers’ Institute meeting in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Here, she suggested that a similar organization could be of benefit for rural women. The next week, on February 19th, the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Institute was held with 101 women and 1 man in attendance – Erland Lee….
While the vision of Adelaide Hunter Hoodless is the foundation for which the Women’s Institute was founded upon, the fact that it ever came to exist is equally attributed to the support of Erland Lee and his wife, Janet Lee. Together, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless and Erland Lee are officially credited as the co-founders of the Women’s Institute.
Today, the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada has over 10,000 members in 827 branches in all Canadian provinces. Local and national issues of importance to the FWIC include nutrition, rural child care, safety, agriculture, and health. Adelaide’s family homestead near St. George, Ont., serves as both museum and national office for the FWIC.