WI 2022 – Celebrating 90 Years – Looking to the Future, Inspired by WI Ladies of the Past

Posted February 9, 2022 by WI Staff in Local Areas

The Federation of the Women’s Institutes of Northern Ireland will celebrate 90 years of WI in Northern Ireland later in this year. The story of the Women’s Institute began at Stoney Creek, Ontario in Canada back in February 1897.

Addie Sophia Hunter was born on 27th February 1858, the youngest of 13 children. Her father, David Hunter, died a few months after her birth leaving her mother, Jane Hamilton Hunter, a widow. Jane rose to the challenge of managing the farm and a large household and this no doubt provided Addie with a powerful role model for the woman she would eventually grow up to be.

She married John Hoodless and exchanged the name ‘Addie’ for ‘Adelaide’.  Adelaide and John had 4 children (2 boys and 2 girls). Tragedy struck in August 1889 when her son, John Harold died aged 14 months – from what has been attributed to as ‘summer complaint’ but his death register states his cause of death as meningitis following an illness of 10 days duration. There has been speculation that he may have drank contaminated milk. Adelaide was devastated and being such a dedicated and doting mother, it is believed she blamed herself for John’s death.


Mrs Hoodless set out to produce something positive from this terrible loss. She learned that had she boiled the milk she gave her son, he would not have become so ill. She vowed to make a difference so others would not experience the same loss. It was after John Harold’s death that Adelaide’s public life began. She wanted to ensure that women had the knowledge to prevent deaths like those of her beloved John. She became interested in the Young Women’s Christian Association, as a route to further efforts to teach girls better household work and domestic science.



In 1897, the Minister of Education asked Adelaide to write a textbook for Domestic Science courses. This became known as the ‘Little Red Book’. It stressed the importance of hygiene, cleanliness and frugality and contained calorie charts, chemical analysis and the importance of meat, fruit and fresh vegetables in the diet.

Adelaide travelled across North America to deliver her message of the importance of domestic education to the success of a family and the nation. Adelaide was a lively and engaging speaker:

“Is it of greater importance that a farmer should know more about the scientific care of his sheep and cattle, than a farmer’s wife should know how to care for her family?”

One of her listeners, Erland Lee, secretary of the Farmers’ Institute of South Wentworth, invited her to Stoney Creek, near Hamilton, to speak at his Farmer’s Institute ‘Ladies Night’ meeting, on 12th February 1897. That night, she suggested forming a group with a purpose to broaden the knowledge of domestic science and agriculture as well as to socialize. Adelaide returned one week later on 19th February 1897 to find 101 women in attendance. This group was to become the first branch of the ‘Women’s Institute’. On 25th February Christina Ann Smith, wife of farmer (and later senator) Ernest D’Israeli Smith was elected President with Adelaide as Honorary President. The idea quickly spread, with the financial and organisational support from the Department of Agriculture. Within decades Women’s Institutes were operating in many parts of the world.

Madge Watt, a founder member of the first WI in British Columbia, organised the first WI meeting in Great Britain. This took place on 16th September 1915 at Llanfairpwell on Anglesey, Wales. Women’s Institutes were formed in England in November 1915, Scotland 1917, and in Northern Ireland Miss Dorothea Macausland opened the first Institute in Garvagh, Co. Londonderry in 1932, with a second shortly after in Newcastle. Having experience of the WI in England she knew that this organisation would greatly benefit the rural women of the province for whom, at that time, there was very little in the way of fellowship or training.

On 26th February 1910, Adelaide travelled by train to Toronto to speak at St. Margaret’s College on ‘Women and Industrial Life’.  10 minutes after she began speaking, her voice faltered. After being given some water, Adelaide collapsed and died. She had died of a cerebral haemorrhage. She was buried in Hamilton on 1st March 1910. She died just 1 day short of her 52nd birthday.

From humble beginnings, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless has been called one of the most famous Canadian women, yet one of the most obscure because she is known with such familiarity in some circles, yet completely unknown in others. In addition to the many initiatives on educating women and writing books, Adelaide Hoodless is credited as a co-founder of the Women’s Institutes, the National Council of Women of Canada, the Victorian Order of Nurses and the YWCA in Canada. She was a major force behind the formation of three faculties of Household Science. All of these organizations are in existence today.


Today Women’s Institutes continue to advocate for domestic education and have expanded their activities to include support for community improvement projects, environmental conservation, better healthcare, age related matters and supporting women, partnering with sister organisations across the world.

100 years after the death of Adelaide’s baby son, our son was born. Baby milk has come a long way in over a century and making up a bottle has definitely changed too! Today our grand-daughter’s bottle is made in less than 2 minutes. Simply scooping the desired amount of baby milk formula into a baby bottle and placing it under a machine which dispenses an initial ‘hot shot’ of water at 70°C, killing any bacteria that may be present as well as helping to dissolve the formula quickly and easily. Give the bottle a quick shake and place it back under the dispenser to be topped up with cooler water. The built-in filter system removes impurities from the water, and the touch-sensitive button dispenses the precise amount of water needed. The result – a fresh baby bottle at body temperature – perfect.


Written by Christine Rankin, Donaghadee WI

(Magazine and Leisure Sub-Committee Chairman)


“Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.

(Adelaide Hoodless)



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