Adelaide Hoodless born as Addie Hunter (February 27, 1858 – February 26, 1910) was a Canadian educational reformer who founded the international women’s organization known as the Women's Institute.
She was born on a farm in St George, Canada West (now Ontario), the youngest of 13 children. Her father died a few months after her birth. Her mother, Jane Hamilton Hunter was left to manage the farm and a large household. Perhaps the hard work and isolation of her youth inspired Adelaide to take up the cause of domestic reform years later.
After her years in a one-room schoolhouse, she stayed with her sister Lizzie while attending 'Ladies College'. While there, she met John Hoodless. He was the only surviving son of a successful Hamilton furniture manufacturer. She married John Hoodless and moved to Hamilton, Ontario.
When they married, she exchanged the name ‘Addie’ for ‘Adelaide’. She also exchanged her life as a hard-working girl in a full and busy rural farmhouse for the life of a Victorian lady. Supported by servants in the upkeep of a fine home, Adelaide and John had four children.
Then personal tragedy struck: in 1889, her infant son John Harold ('Jack') died at age 14 months – from what was called “summer complaint”. He probably drank contaminated milk. Adelaide was devastated.
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 'Jack', and she devoted herself to the betterment of education for new mothers.
She became the second president of the Hamilton branch of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), a role she used to work towards the establishment of domestic science education, and taught classes in domestic science (home economics).
In January 1897, the Minister of Education asked Adelaide to write a textbook for Domestic Science courses. In 1898 she published a book Public School Domestic Science. This became known as the ‘Little Red Book’. It stressed the importance of hygiene, cleanliness and frugality.
In addition to these projects, Adelaide was travelling all over the province, speaking on the subject of domestic science. She 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?”
Mr. Erland Lee, of Stoney Creek, heard Adelaide speak, and her message resonated with him. He asked Adelaide to speak at his Farmer’s Institute Ladies Night meeting, on Feb 12th 1897. When she spoke 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 to find 101 women in attendance. This group was to become the first branch of the Women's Institute, with Adelaide as honorary president. Within a decade more than 500 branches been organized across Canada.
Adelaide had met Lady Aberdeen through her work with the National Council for Women. Now concerned about families living in isolated surroundings with little or no access to medical care, Lady Aberdeen sought Adelaide’s support. Her own campaign merged nicely with this goal. Adelaide worked with Lady Aberdeen to found the National Council of Women of Canada, the Victorian Order of Nurses and the National Association of the YWCA.
By Oct of 1902, the Ministry of Education was about to make domestic science a regular part of curriculum in Ontario schools. But Adelaide already had her sights on the next step. She wanted Domestic Science to be offered at the university level. She knew she needed a wealthy patron to finance the project. She approached Sir William MacDonald, a wealthy Montreal non-smoker, who had made his money in tobacco. She persuaded him to fund two programs – one in Ontario and one in Quebec.
In 1907, the Women’s Institute marked its 10th anniversary by commissioning Toronto artist John Wycliffe Lowes Forster to paint her portrait. The artist captures her determination and charm.
On February 26, 1910, Adelaide travelled by train to Toronto to speak at St. Margaret’s College on “Women and Industrial Life”. Ten minutes after she began speaking, her voice faltered. She was given some water. She took a sip, said 4 more words and collapsed on the floor. She was buried in Hamilton, March 1, 1910.
Adelaide’s achievements were indeed very substantial, and they signaled a new era of activism for women at the dawn of a new century. Her death in 1910 was deeply felt at the time. Adelaide has been commemorated in varied ways throughout the century since her death.
Adelaide is credited as a co-founder of the Women's Institutes, the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses. She was a major force behind the formation of three faculties of Household Science. All of her accomplishments have had a profound and long lasting effect on Canadian society, and all of these organizations are still in existence today.
The Victorian Order of Nurses is Canada’s largest, not-for-profit homecare organization. With a staff of more than 7000 and supported by more than 14 000 volunteers, it is a daily presence in the lives of many Canadians.
There are Councils of Women in 20 cities, in 5 provinces, along with 27 affiliate organizations. The National Council of Women has met formally with the members of the federal Cabinet since 1924 to advocate for policies developed through a grass roots process of consultation and debate.
The Women’s Institute, internationally organized through the Associated Country Women of the World, has a membership of over 9 million member societies in over 70 countries.
The University of Guelph recognizes her contribution to education by hanging her portrait in what was once called the MacDonald Institute.
In 1911, the year after she died, one of Hamilton’s new schools was named after her. Her beloved husband, John, laid the cornerstone. There are also schools named after her in Bridgeworth, and Blaine, Ontario.
On October 27, 1937, some 300 people watched Lady Tweedsmuir unveil a cairn dedicated to Adelaide’s memory. The cairn can be found at the intersection of Blue Lake Road and Highway #24, near St. George, Ontario. To this day, it is cared for by the Brant District W.I.
In 1993, Canada Post issued a postage stamp, designed by artist Heather Cooper.
In 2003, the Hoodless Garden, was created as a part of numerous celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the MacDonald Institute in Guelph, Ontario. A sculpture by artist Jan Noestheden takes the form of a larger-than-life aluminum portrait, mounted 6" away from the wall, so light will shine through the image and cast a shadow.
Adelaide’s childhood home was acquired by the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada (FWIC) in 1959. The home was owned by the Hunter family for 55 years, and in the century since Adelaide’s death, it has been owned by the FWIC for 51 years. It is now a National Historic Site and is operated as a museum: the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead.
One hundred years after the death of Adelaide Hunter Hoodless, her commemoration does not exist in quantity, but it does exist in quality. Women around the world know her name, and through the organizations she founded, people are cared for, women have increased mutual support, and those who work in the home are well-supported and respected.
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- Works by Adelaide Hoodless at Project Gutenberg
- Bailey, Thomas Melville (1991). Dictionary of Hamilton Biography (Vol II,). W.L. Griffin Ltd.
- "Adelaide Hoodless", HelpMeFind: Roses