Remember Me? Adelaide Hunter Hoodless
A portrait of womens' rights advocate Adelaide Hunter Hoodless hangs inside the front door of her childhood home on Blue Lake Road east of Paris, Ont. (MICHAEL PEELING/QMI Agency)
Before women’s suffrage and before women’s rights and liberation movements of the 20th century, there was Adelaide Hunter Hoodless — a voice for the rural Canadian woman.
Barely recognized today for her pioneering efforts, Hoodless breathed life into organizations that became iconic Canadian institutions — the Women’s Institutes, the Victorian Order of Nurses and the National Council of Women.
She was responsible for nationalizing the YWCA and she spearheaded the inclusion of domestic science in schools.
Hoodless inspired women, especially rural women, across Canada and around the world to join en masse to better themselves, their families and their communities.
Now, only at the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead – her picturesque farmhouse birthplace near St. George, Ont. — is the early crusader for women’s practical education in life skills, family nutrition and food safety celebrated. Her name is noticeably absent from websites of the VON and the National Council of Women.
Adelaide Hunter was born in 1858, the youngest in a family of double-digit siblings. The death of her father left the running of the farm to her mother and older siblings.
She married furniture manufacturer John Hoodless and moved to a comfortable life in Hamilton, Ont. Her life changed after the 1889 death of her 14-month-old son John, believed caused by contaminated, unpasteurized milk. Hoodless blamed herself for not knowing about the danger.
The all-too-common tragedy spurred Hoodless to action as an advocate, public speaker and organizer, aiming to educate women in a changing society where knowledge of the practicalities of “domestic science” was fast disappearing.
She lobbied for the inclusion of domestic science education in schools. In 1897, she was asked by the minister of education to write a textbook for such courses.
The first Women’s Institute was organized after a speech by Hoodless in Stoney Creek, Ont., in 1897. The WI blossomed and, 20 years later, there were nearly 900 branches with 30,000 members in Ontario alone. WI expanded internationally, resulting in some nine million members in more than 70 countries.
Although a champion for women in many ways, Hoodless was actually no fan of suffrage. She saw no reason why women should vote, or want to vote. Her sole mission was to educate women in practicalities that resulted in healthy families.
Hoodless’s life was cut short by heart failure in 1910. Although the organizations she inspired carried on, the memory of the woman herself faded to obscurity.
Her founding of the Women’s Institutes led to many public health and safety benefits now long taken for granted, such as the pasteurization of milk, painted lane lines on roads, best-before dates on food, and much more.
Quote: “Educate a boy and you educate a man, but educate a girl and you educate a family.”
1858: Born Feb. 27 on a farm near St. George, Ont.
1881: Married John Hoodless
1889: The death of her 14-month-old son John, believed due to contaminated, unpasteurized milk, spurred Hoodless to a public life as a speaker, advocate and champion for domestic education.
1897: Founded the first Women’s Institute in Stoney Creek, Ont.
1910: Died Feb. 26 (the day before her 52nd birthday) after collapsing while giving a speech at St. Margaret’s College in Toronto.