Feb. 19 marks the 121st anniversary of the founding of the first Women’s Institute in the world.
Where did this happen? In Stoney Creek, Ont. Why did it happen? To bring women together to share their knowledge of ways to make their pioneer lifestyle healthier and easier, and to develop some laughter and fun for the whole family.
Each year, Women’s Institute members in hundreds of communities across Canada make February very special. Some have Women’s Institute Day or Women’s Institute Week declared in their communities. Others meet more quietly together and celebrate. Whatever their plan, women want to show a truly heartfelt appreciation for our revered founder Mrs. Adelaide Hoodless. Her vision and dedication to making life better for women, both in rural areas and in small communities, has indeed been fulfilled.
Here in the Cowichan Valley, the Somenos and Cobble Hill Women’s Institutes will be joining other members across the South Vancouver Island District. Together we will remember Mrs. Hoodless and her work. We will recall the efforts made by earlier members who helped shape our history in British Columbia.
In the 1920s Women’s Institute members worked together to establish — not one, but two! — children’s hospitals in our province. They were the first hospitals dedicated to children’s health. Both opened and admitted their first patients in April of 1927 — both were 16 bed facilities, one in Vancouver and the other at Mill Bay. And what is the fate of these two hospitals? The one in Vancouver is now known as the British Columbia Children’s Hospital and the one started at Mill Bay was moved to Victoria in 1958 and is known today as the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island.
Both facilities have outstripped our ability to fund them, but we do continue to support them as much as we can, and feel a glow of pride at the service they are rendering to our youngest citizens.
During both world wars, our members gave service both to communities right here and help overseas where possible. Their dedication showed also in the support they offered to our men and women in the military, as well as numerous ventures for the citizens living in Great Britain, Belgium, Russia and other countries. They gathered donations for many causes including Red Cross projects, ambulance monies, the Queen’s Canadian Fund, and Milk for British Children, to mention a few.
All this is part of why we celebrate February. We recognize the efforts of members who have gone before, plus salute the work being done today. We will always remember why the Women’s Institute was founded, and work to keep it alive and well to assist women of today who search for an outlet where they can learn and share their knowledge, all the while having some fun!
South Vancouver Island District members will gather on Saltspring Island to celebrate our history and to take a look, tongue in cheek, at what the Women’s Institute may look like or be doing at some time in the future. Our “playwrights and performers” never cease to surprise and entertain us!
Ruth Fenner is the Somenos Women’s Institute historian.