The question the ladies of the Bond Head Women’s Institute hear most often is, “What is Women’s Institute?”
“I thought it was an elite group,” admits member Mikki Nanowski. “All those women were so nicely dressed!”
In fact, she discovered that the members ranged from farm wives to retired teachers and professionals – and they were engaged, involved and interested, concerned with social issues, with heritage, and with their community.
And that’s the way Women’s Institutes have been since they were established 121 years ago by Adelaide Hoodless and Erland Lee, with the goal of bringing together rural women, providing them with training in home economics, and giving them a voice.
The first WI was founded in Stoney Creek, Ontario, by Erland and Janet Lee – but the idea quickly spread. By 1929, a first International Conference of Rural Women took place in London, UK, with representation from 24 countries.
One year later, the ACWW – Associated Country Women of the World – was established. It now has an estimated membership of nine million in 365 member societies, in 70 countries. The motto of Women’s Institute: For Home and Country.
The past achievements of WI are impressive. In Canada, they successfully lobbied for the pasteurization of milk, lights and stop arms on school buses, wrappers on bread, centre lines on highways. Women may not have had the vote in those early days, but Women’s Institutes gave women the power to change their communities for the better.
Today, the focus has gone beyond home economics, child-rearing, health and safety, to embrace a range of charitable causes and current issues – but the focus remains on education, action, and bringing women together.
Membership in Women’s Institute is a way to get to know others in the community, get active, “as opposed to being home, or gardening,” laughed member Lorna Atkinson. It’s a way to share community news and concerns – and have fun.
The Bond Head WI has provided funds for bursaries at Sir William Osler Public School, a rural school in Bond Head, and funding for other charities; and recently completed a 5-year project to photograph and commemorate the disappearing barns of Bradford West Gwillimbury, in a series of full-colour calendars.
The Bond Head WI executive members met at Riverview Inn for breakfast on July 25, to map out the monthly meetings for the year ahead – the WI Branch’s 99th year. Outings, educational programs, presentations on topics of general interest, Federation of Women’s Institutes of Ontario ROSE (Reaching Ontario Sharing Education) workshops, and exciting new initiatives were proposed.
For more information, contact Leila Lloyd, [email protected], or watch for the WI table at the Bradford Farmers’ Market.