While the men of the township had their social outlets in threshing bees, wood-cutting bees, barn-raisings, and plowing matches, the gentler sex had few occasions to satisfy their social cravings. Oh, they had their quilting bees, and the doubtful pleasure of providing the meals for threshing bees, but there was nowhere they could express their creative talents. In the 1890’s, a very progressive lady, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless, grieving over the loss of her son, dedicated her life to improving the lot of rural women, urging them to organize and become better educated in all aspects of life. At one Farmer’s Convention, she told the men they gave better care to their cows and pigs than to their wives and children. Her eloquence and ability to encourage those in good financial positions to aid her cause, changed the lives of rural women forever. For what began as the Women’s Institute movement on February 19, 1897 near Hamilton, Ontario, has now grown into an organization so vast that I’m sure the good Adelaide, herself, would be astounded.

Early Institute in front of Bruce Home. Back Row: Mrs. Albert Robinson, Mrs. Alf Shewfelt, Mrs. Bob Bruce, Marie Summers, Mrs. John Allinotte, Mrs. J.R. MacKay, Mrs. Bill Headley; Front Row: Mrs. John Armstrong, Mrs. Jim Junor, Mrs. Abe Oben, Mrs. Frank Pierce, Mrs. Marv Irwin; Sitting In Front: Mrs. Murdoch McLeod.

It was 1905, when the W.I., as it became known, first came to Algoma. In that year, four branches were formed: West Korah, Tarentorous South, Goulais Bay and MacLennan; the latter including the women of Laird, and the only branch still active in 1991. Mrs. John Nott was the first president, but the names of Laird pioneer women are recorded in several early records, although some of them have been lost through fires. These Include Mrs. John Armstrong, Mrs. Robert Bruce, Mrs. Headley, Mrs. Shewfelt, Mrs. Murray, Mrs. Davidson, Mrs. C. Moore, Mrs. J. Junor, Mrs. Buchanan.

It was 1931 when the ladies in the northern portion of the township felt they had enough interested ladies to form a branch of their own. On February 19th of that year, the Bar River Branch was organized. The first meeting had an attendance of nine, however, members grew to 36 by years’ end. The president at that time was Mrs. R.J. Stobie, with Mrs. C.F. Booth as 1st V.P. and Miss Pearl Gibson as Assistant. Other names were Mrs. J.C. Kingshott, Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Chappell, Mrs. Mitchell, Mrs. Smith, and Miss N.S. Walker.

Along with the many courses offered to the women, ranging from caring for children, bum treatment, preparing food before refrigeration and pasteurization, the fun things such as proper application of make-up, hairdressing and creating a lovely hat, the institutes made great contributions in other ways as well. Travelling libraries gave access to reading material. Pianos in the schools and music instruction broadened the scope of education for students, as did the introduction of Essay Contests.

Soon, in 1934, a third branch was formed. The Laird Institute began that year, with President Mrs. Warden Headrick, Mrs. James Keating as V.P., Mrs. Newman Johnston, Mrs. John Keating, Miss Pearl Gibson, Mrs. Dan McDonald, Mrs. John Khull, Miss Marjorie Shellhorn and Mrs. James Larocque. This group was responsible for establishing the Homemaking part of the 4H club. They encouraged the young women and girls of the area to take part and these were taught to express themselves in such arts as flower arranging and all the other traits needed to become overall complete individuals. The Laird W.I. members became involved in fundraising efforts, mainly to provide the necessary equipment for the Hall, including the stoves and refrigerators, tables and chairs, even to the installation of water and electricity. Along with the many dances that were arranged for this purpose, the ladies found that their Card Parties were very well attended and proved to be a great fundraiser. They, too, did a lot of catering, as well as the Bar River ladies. During the war, of course, they contributed their share of quilts and knit­ted afghans. With the mainstays of the Institute passing to their reward, or moving away from the community, resulting in a decrease in attendance, the ladies felt they could not continue, and so in the mid-seventies, the Laird group disbanded. The Bar River group, though, remains active.

Women’s Institute at “Quarry Island” in 1928 when the Peter Moores were caretakers.

One of the greatest results of the Women’s Institutes was the compilation of what was called the “Tweedsmuir Book”. These are records of the activities of the community, and we are very fortunate that we have had such dedicated ladies in the areas who have taken on the responsibilities of this position of curator, and who have done such a marvellous job of putting together the history of the townships together with newspaper clippings and pictures.

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More Information On The Women’s Insitutue In Laird Township:
Laird History Volume Two – Women’s Institute