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The First Women's Institute

This story was initially published in 2001

On February 19, 1897, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless founded the Women's Institute in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Known to many as the "Domestic Crusader," Adelaide devoted her life to educating women in modern homemaking skills.

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless
© LAC / C-85284

Adelaide Hunter was born in 1857 on a farm in St. George, Ontario. The lack of amenities found in her childhood home spoke to the hard labour and isolation experienced by many rural women in the mid-19th century. At the age of 24, she married John Hoodless and moved with him to Hamilton to begin their family. In 1888, their youngest son, John Harold, died from drinking contaminated milk. Adelaide was deeply affected by his death. She became involved in the public health and women's movements that were asking the government to create a healthier environment for mothers and children. She openly condemned Ontario's educational curriculum, arguing that it did nothing to teach women the basics of safely running their homes.

She strongly believed that you "educate a boy and you educate a man, but you educate a girl and you educate a family." An effective speaker, Adelaide carried her message throughout Ontario. She became president of the Young Women's Christian Organization (YWCA) in 1890, and helped establish it as a national organization. She was also a member of the National Council of Women and helped organize the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON).

Finally, her public speaking and insistence on the importance of domestic education led to the creation of the first Women's Institute. After a monumental speech to more than 100 women at Squire's Hall in Stoney Creek, Adelaide co-founded the Stoney Creek Women's Institute with Erland Lee in 1897. By 1913, Women's Institute branches were located in every Canadian province, and have since been established throughout the English-speaking world. The Institute was founded in the belief that by working together, women could improve living conditions for their families, their communities and the world. Its accomplishments included lobbying for the pasteurization of milk, dental and medical inspections in schools, the painting of white lines to divide highways, and the installation of signs at railway crossings.

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead, St. George, Ontario

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead,
St. George, Ontario

© Parks Canada

In 1965, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless was designated as a person of national historic significance for her active role in founding institutes of household science. The Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead, her childhood home in St. George, has been designated as a national historic site.

For more information about the Women’s Institute, please read “For Home and Country": The Founding of Canada's First Women's Institute.
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