2001-2007 for the Centennial of the B.C. Women’s Institutes 1909-2009
Despite the Victorian overtly male influence implied in the text above, women on that February date late in the 19th Century took a monumental step forward along the road to the equality that we women of this 21st Century enjoy.
As the first woman to hold the Office of Lieutenant Governor in our Province, I have been proud to act as a patron marking the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Institutes in British Columbia, and I am happy to offer this short foreword to a celebratory book, marking the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Institutes in British Columbia.
As most of us are aware, Women’s Institutes were founded when Canadian populations were sparse, services were few, and women’s support was minimal. Founder Adelaide Hoodless remained among the unsung heroes of Canada’s Women’s Movement and was a primary participant in creating W.I. and the National Council of Women of Canada, the Macdonald Institute, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and the National Council of the YWCA!
At that historic farmer’s meeting, Ms. Hoodless told the assembled group of farmers that they paid more attention to farm animals’ health than they did to that of their wives and children!
In that same year, she was a delegate to the first World Congress of Women held in Chicago, where she addressed a ‘thorny’ topic: women’s education, which was considered a needless extravagance at that time. The new WI was pledged to develop women’s confidence, health, and wellbeing and encourage all their abilities and capacities to live powerfully and successfully in rural communities. The Women’s Institutes stood for nothing less than creating a rural university system that included women.
With a clear and sustained vision for the future, WI changed the world of women who often lived at a distance from each other while forming a bond between country and city women. Although today we tend to think of our past as irredeemably racist, it was the Women’s Institutes that welcomed ALL women of every background and ethnic origin into their ranks! Many of the subsequent women leaders, recognized today as ‘trailblazers,’ acknowledged their debt to WI and attributed their courage and success to Women’s Institute role models.
Canada’s first woman Member of Parliament, Agnes McPhail, and women’s rights advocate Nellie McLung, with many others, often credited W.I. for inspiring their subsequent achievements. In just ten years, there were 500 WIs in place all across our country. Born in Canada, following the first and second World Wars, Women’s Institutes blossomed into international operations in England and Scotland, yet remained a ‘Canadian’ entity. Women’s Institutes brought women from all walks of life together; countrywomen, city women, women of every age, and ethnicity all achieved a new consciousness of their own capacities and came to express the strengths of women united.
On this 100th Anniversary of the Women’s Institutes, there is pride in knowing that through the decades, the Institute has maintained the integrity with which it still speaks from a rural base while remaining a respected and robust voice for responsible, sustainable agriculture and a positive force in women’s lives.
The Women’s Institute has a very special place in the British Columbia family and across Canada. It has retained a fundamental belief in strengthening families through enriched community life and women’s active engagement throughout the century. Happy 100th Anniversary, may there be many, many more Centennials!