Wilma Kenny | Jun 21, 2019
“Farm women are this country’s richest untapped resource.” February 1887, at a Farmer’s Institute Ladies’ Night in Stoney Creek, the speaker was Adelaide Hoodless of Hamilton. She suggested there was a need for a farm women’s organization, and she was right; one week later, over 100 women crowded into the founding meeting of the Canadian Women’s Institute.
Based on the premises of education, community service and socialization to raise the standards of homemaking and child care in rural areas, the idea spread rapidly across Canada. Sydenham women held their founding meeting June 25, 1919 on the lawn of the Lacey home which was located in the current Home Hardware parking lot, adjacent to Lacey’s general store. That year 41 women joined, and by the following year, membership was up to 83.
As a learning centre, the WI was sometimes nicknamed ‘the rural women’s university’. Women were sent by their branches to area seminars, and as well as learning a wide range of skills that included home nursing, hygiene, nutrition, sewing, cooking, community outreach and how to conduct meetings, they were taught how to teach these skills to their home branch members. The regular monthly meetings usually featured guest speakers on topics of current interest.
Bake sales and catering have always been WI specialties, but there was much, much more. In Sydenham, the WI introduced the Red Cross water safety and swimming lessons, sponsoring it from 1950 until the Township assumed responsibility relatively recently. The WI also: supplied clothing, quilts, toys to needy children during the war years; organized Girl Guides in Sydenham; bought a piano for the public school, thus initiating a school music program; bought, along with the local Board of Trade, what is now ‘the Point Park’, raising $550 a year until it was paid for in 1955; initiated an annual Christmas dinner for Seniors, and ran it for 30 years; set up scholarships for the local schools, held annual village Hallowe’en parties, sponsored plays and movies in the Town Hall, provided milk and sometimes lunches to local schools. With encouragement from Lady Tweedsmuir, local histories were collected and compiled, beginning in the late 1930’s: Sydenham has a copy in the Queen’s archives. The list of community contributions goes on and on…
Sydenham WI continues today though reduced in size, due largely to societal changes that have led to many more women working full-time, fewer full-time small family farms, and a broadening of available community services over the years.
Sydenham’s active WI meets the second Monday of each month at the Township Hall’s community room. Visitors are welcomed.
Come out this Saturday (June 22) to Grace Hall to join the members of Sydenham Women’s Institute as they celebrate and honour their 100th anniversary, from 1pm to 4pm. Refreshments will be served.