Far from being experts on her life, the few factoids we have picked up about Adelaide have made for thought-provoking material. What does it mean to devote oneself to their family? How does the family unit operate differently from the individual? What kind of sacrifice are we willing to make for our kids and homes? Adelaide found her answers and dedicated her life to making it possible for others to live her same ideal life.
Known best for championing the inclusion of domestic science – or home economics – in Canadian school curriculum and at the University level, Adelaide was instrumental in the social group the YWCA, serving as its second president. She went on to cofound the Women s Institute (WI) in nearby Stoney Creek, an organization that grew to international proportions after her death and that, as Mark’s grandmothers know well, became very important in the UK during the world wars when food was strictly rationed and it took women skilled in making things go further to ensure the survival of families. The WI now operates Adelaide’s childhood home as a museum.
One of the most widely known stories about Adelaide is a sad one. She had four children, the youngest of whom – a boy – unexpectedly passed away at fourteen months old. The culprit of his death is believed to have been “summer complaint”, an intestinal illness derived from contaminated milk. We now know the actual cause of death to be meningitis, which may have indeed been brought on by the spoiled milk. Adelaide reportedly blamed herself for his death but somehow found the strength to devote herself to a new cause: to saving other children and mothers from her fate by ensuring that the education of girls and women on domestic matters was valued as significantly as skills required for working outside the home. She immediately championed and helped pass milk pasteurization laws that in a time of basic sanitation would save many babies’ lives.
Some of the controversy around her effect on the world comes from the fact that she did not support the suffragette cause. However, there are multiple interpretations of this fact; our friend Stephanie Pile, the Outreach and Program Coordinator at the Hoodless Museum, told us that Adelaide actually believed whole families should vote rather than individuals. It’s an interesting concept. And today while the line between women’s and men’s interests is blurred, in Adelaide’s time they were not, and she fought for women’s interests to be valued and taken as seriously as men’s.
“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?” –Adelaide Hunter Hoodless
History is beguiling and infinitely interesting in that you can take any set of facts and write them as positive or negative. One may never truly know how it was. But this is why personal accounts are so important, and why it is so important to preserve the memory of individuals who are complex and flawed and beautiful in their imperfections.
What we like about the character of Adelaide Hunter Hoodless is that she did things her own way. “Her” way also happened to be socially mainstream, but we get the impression that wasn’t why she did it. She started things. She found holes and sought to mend them with programs and organisations, with connections between people and the empowerment of women through gathering together and furthering education and skills. She never stopped trying. She died trying. Addie fell down dead on stage ten minutes in to delivering a lecture on “Women and Industrial Life” in Toronto a day before her 53rd birthday.
In our own life story, the themes of home, family, and community are close to home. Jane & Jury even derives its namesake from our home which sits on the corner of those two streets here in Paris, which we have intentionally chosen for putting down roots (perhaps because we couldn’t agree on where else to settle, but the fact is that we could agree on Paris!). We like that figures like Adelaide Hunter Hoodless are cherished not necessarily for their ideals but for what they accomplished and how that improved society at the time.
Regardless of your perspective, the green grounds and house is an interesting prompt for debate. We gathered there with a couple fellow WI member families for a picnic underneath the idyllic tree beside the community garden. The custom commissioned facing swing is worth a go, as is the informative museum tour. We’ve also heard great things about their summer kids programs, usually centred around arts and crafts, and can’t wait to try them.