A Rural Tradition
Operating under the motto “For Home and Country,” the many branches of the Women’s Institute have been serving Grey County for more than 100 years. The first branch established in Grey County was the Kemble Women’s Institute. Organized just six months after the charter branch at Stoney Creek in 1897, it was the third branch established in the world. Over the years, 99 branches have come into and out of existence, with only 19 remaining active today.
The Women’s Institute was founded by Adelaide Hoodless to fill the need of educating rural women in matters of homemaking and child care, but before long, their mandate spread to include the betterment of life in rural communities, and indeed, the world at large. Though not always credited, the Women’s Institutes of Grey County have been paramount to many developments and causes. Too numerous to list them all, some significant contributions include: establishing home economics and music classes in public schools, financing and putting up street signs, assisting with 4-H clubs, helping to establish the Owen Sound-Grey County Museum and the Grey County Archives (now amalgamated at Grey Roots Museum & Archives), donating funds and materials to hospitals, Children’s Aid, schools and libraries, and holding fundraisers, bake sales, bazaars, teas and auctions.
Another contribution which has been highly overlooked is the village history books that have been compiled since 1940. The village histories, called “Tweedsmuir Histories”, have been compiled by individual branches of the W.I. and contain an abundance of valuable information that not only record the activities and contributions of each branch, but also detailed history about the area served by the branches. In an effort to make these books more accessible we have digitized them, put them online and created a search tool to help find information on a given topic, person, location or W.I. branch. The majority of the volumes are fully searchable, leaving only a few handwritten books partially searchable.
The digitization process involved scanning the covers and every page of each Tweedsmuir. To avoid damage, the pages were removed from the books and scanned individually, then returned to their original position. For pages with photographs on them, an additional high-resolution scan was done for each photo to enable the clear viewing. When the digitization project began there were 31 Tweedsmuirs in our collection, some with more than 200 pages. As word spread about the project, the response was overwhelming with 20 additional Tweedsmuirs being donated, one temporarily, bringing our total collection to 51. After more than 600 hours of scanning, 32 of these books have been digitized, however the remaining volumes will be added as time permits. Contained in these 32 Tweedsmuirs are over 5000 pages of information and 3800 photographs. These numbers will grow as more volumes are added.
The result of all this hard work is “For Home and Country: The Women’s Institutes of Grey County.” We hope you enjoy this online exhibit and all of the unique information contained within. Complete with a search tool, the Tweedsmuirs will be a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, students, teachers and anyone with an interest in local history. The content of these books is relevant to the Ontario public school curriculum for grades 2, 3, 7 and 8. View a teacher’s programming guide.
This project was made possible through financial contributions from the Canadian Culture Online Program of Canadian Heritage, Library and Archives Canada (administered through the Canadian Council of Archives), as well as the Grey County Historical Society, the Dromore W.I., the Gleneden W.I., the Zion Friendship Group, the Woodland Springs W.I., the Osprey W.I., the Ayton W.I., Ruth Thomas and Viola Bothwell. We are also grateful to our many community supporters including the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library, the Grey Highlands Public Library, the Grey Unit of the Retired Teachers of Ontario, and the Owen Sound branch of the Retired Women’s Teachers’ Organization.
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