The Women's Institute (WI) was founded by Adelaide Hunter Hoodless on February 19, 1897 in Stoney Creek, Ontario. However, the story really began in 1889, when Adelaide's fourteen month old son, John Harold, passed away from "summer complaint," an intestinal ailment caused by drinking impure milk. Adelaide was shocked by her own "ignorance of domestic hygiene" and "realized that if she, as a careful parent and an educated person, was ignorant of basic domestic science knowledge, then there must be thousands more women like her." After her son's death she devoted herself to promoting domestic science education. She believed that "the educational system in force in Ontario at the time to be absolutely wrong. She did not approve, at all, of educating boys and girls along the same lines, when their life work was so vastly different." After several attempts at realizing her vision, including the creation of a cooking school in Hamilton and promoting schools of domestic science in Guelph, the Women's Institute was finally realized.
The WI was created to support women living in rural communities. In one meeting, Hoodless explained that "women's work, homecraft and mothercraft, was much more important than men's since it dealt with the home and the care of the loved ones who dwelt therein." With these powerful ideas as its pillar, the Women's Institute became the largest international women's organization ever created. After its creation in Stoney Creek, many other places followed suit, with more than 2000 branches springing up in communities all across Ontario.
The Atikokan Branch
The Atikokan branch was formed on April 5, 1922, with an initial membership of nineteen women. By the end of its first year this number grew to thirty one. The Atikokan Branch of the WI was integral to the community's development. As this community was (and still is) isolated, the WI was indispensable because it offered many services to the community that were otherwise not available. For instance, the WI sidewalk committee was instrumental in repairing roads and laying cinder sidewalks. Below is an Atikokan Centennial Museum label that shows other positive additions the WI made to the town.
The Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario (FWIO) website offers a PDF listing all of the Women's Institute Branches- Past and Present. This list states that the Atikokan branch was operational until 1979.
Tweedsmuir History Book
In the 1920s, WI members began collecting and recording community histories. In 1925, the Committee for Historical Research and Current Events was formed and suggested that "more time be given to the study of local history in the hopes of gaining greater insight into the lives and thoughts of our ancestors." By the mid 1930s Lady Tweedsmuir, wife of Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir, took an interest in the WI. She suggested that the WI of Ontario follow in the footsteps of its English counterpart and keep detailed history books.
In 1945, a campaign was launched to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the WI. As a way of celebrating, branches were encouraged to start collecting their local histories. In 1947, these books were officially named "The Tweedsmuir Village History Books," as a tribute to Lord Tweedsmuir, who passed away a few years earlier. The Federated FWIO website states that "a decade later the Provincial Board reported that 989 Branches across the province were compiling Tweedsmuir History Books."
The Atikokan Branch began creating its book in 1951. Mrs. Phil Rawn was credited with compiling a lot of the information. J. Munn was responsible for most of the assembly. Mrs. Tom Rawn and D.S. McCuaig provided the bulk of the information recorded about Atikokan's early life. Mrs. Rooney and other community members contributed photographs. Organizations also aided in the book's creation. To offer some examples, Steep Rock Iron Mines provided a dearth of information "as they [were] closely associated with the growth of Atikokan." Numerous town churches and organizations also provided information to include in the book's pages.
Lady Tweedsmuir's foreword above states:
I am so glad to hear that the Women's Institutes of Ontario are going to compile village history books. Events move very fast nowadays, houses are pulled down, new roads are made, and the aspect of the countryside changes completely sometimes in a short time.
Lady Tweedsmuir's words encouraged WI members to become local historians. Not only did they collect and preserve newspaper articles, photographs, institutional histories, literary prose and art, they also used oral histories as a means to record the past. As such, these books have become a window into the past, giving details about rural Ontario life; preserved for present and future generations to enjoy. And, true to Lady Tweedsmuir's statement, these books have become an invaluable resource for historians. As an Atikokan Centennial Museum employee, I can attest that I have referenced the local Tweedsmuir book several times to locate historical information. Every so often I flip through the book to find names of community members that may have not been recorded in the museum's accession records. Because of this resource, many people once labeled as "unidentified" have been given names in the museum's records.
The FWIO is still in existence today, with many active branches throughout Ontario. They "envision an Ontario where women work together for safe, healthy families, communities and pursue an enriched and balanced lifestyle." Preserving history is still an important activity for the group. In 2010 an agreement was made with the Ontario Genealogical Society and the FWIO to digitize the Tweedsmuir books. The FWIO website states that "this is great news to the WI. Besides having the original documents remain locally, the whole world will be able to access the Tweedsmuirs online to conduct family research, learn about our rich communities, and discover the wonderful work that has been created by WI members." The FWIO also has digital collections available, including ten digitized versions of Tweedsmuir Community History Books. Interested parties can also visit the Erland Lee Museum, the birthplace of the WI in Stoney Creek, located just east of Hamilton. This structure stands proudly on top of the beautiful Niagara escarpment.
For those interested in the Atikokan's Tweedsmuir History Book please visit the Atikokan Centennial Museum. There is also a copy of the book at the Atikokan Public Library.
 Linda M. Ambrose. For Home and Country: The Centennial History of the Women's Institutes in Ontario (Boston Mills Press, 1996), 17.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 22.
 Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario. "Branches: Past & Present, http://www.fwio.on.ca/branches-past-present (accessed March 26, 2017)
 Allan A. Viita. A History of Atikokan: 75th Anniversary Edition, 68.
 Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario. "Tweedsmuir History Books," http://www.fwio.on.ca/tweedsmuir-history-books (accessed March 26, 2017)
 Atikokan Branch of the Women's Institute, Tweedsmuir History Book, Atikokan Centennial Museum.
 Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario, "About FWIO,"http://www.fwio.on.ca/about-fwio"
Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario. "Tweedsmuir History Books," http://www.fwio.on.ca/tweedsmuir-history-books (accessed March 26, 2017)
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