Who is Adelaide Hunter Hoodless

Women's Institute Founder - Adelaide Hunter Hoodless

The youngest of thirteen children, Adelaide Hunter, was born to Jane Hunter on February 27, 1857, her father, David Hunter, having passed away just a few months earlier. Born near St. George, Ontario, it was here that she received her formal education.

After marrying a businessman, John Hoodless, at the age of 24, she moved to Hamilton where the couple raised a family of four. When her first child died at the age of eighteen months from drinking unpasteurized milk, she felt it could have been avoided if she had been more educated. This tragedy inspired her to set about making sure that more women were educated in matters of “domestic science” and she began pushing for courses to be taught in Hamilton public schools.Adelaide Hoodless

Having created a stir in that endeavour, she had garnered a reputation for being an entertaining speaker and was invited to speak at the annual meeting of the Farmer’s Institute in 1896, where the main focus of discussion was the health of farm animals. When she took the podium she advocated that the health of family be put above that of the animals, and in doing so, moved one man, Erland Lee, to invite her to speak at his local Farmer’s Institute’s next meeting. At this meeting, to which both men and women had been invited, it was suggested that some type of organization for women be established to study and improve homemaking, in the way that the Farmer’s Institutes worked to improve farming. So a meeting was planned for the following Friday night, to give some time to advertise, and an attendance of thirty-five was expected. Support was much stronger than anticipated when on February 19, 1897 one hundred and one women and one man (Erland Lee) crowded into Squire’s Hall, in the village of Stoney Creek, to organize the first branch of the Women’s Institute.

Knowing the time limitations of rural women, the Women’s Institute held “short courses,” often in the homes of members, and taking only an afternoon, so that the members could gain important knowledge and skills without sacrificing responsibilities at home. The topics covered at the short courses were highly varied and limited only to that which pertained to “a better understanding of the economic and hygienic value of foods,” “the scientific care of children,” and “any line of work for the uplifting of the home or the betterment of conditions surrounding community life,” as defined in the constitution of the Women’s Institute. The guests and instructors at these meetings would give a talk and then begin the lesson, which almost always took a “hands on” approach. Some branches would send a delegate to a given short course, who, upon returning, would teach the rest of the members at the next meeting.

Clearly satisfying a widely felt need, the popularity of the Women’s Institute grew quickly with 30,000 members from 888 branches recorded in Ontario in 1914. From the sorrow of a grieving mother grew an international institution with Women’s Institutes today recording 9 million members in 70 countries. Though the beginnings were humble, Adelaide Hoodless felt the need for an ongoing effort to better the lives of women and rural people everywhere, or as one paper put it “She had the prophet’s vision of what ought to be and nobly took upon herself the burden of the voice crying in the wilderness.”

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